And to celebrate, she graces not one, but three (!) different covers.
The theme of this year’s issue centers on body diversity and age inclusion, something that was very important to SI Swim editor MJ Day. It’s also one of the reasons Upton was “proud” to return to the magazine.
“To have an issue that focuses on that is really an amazing moment for me because I think it’s important for everyone to be the best they can be, but not to strive to be a company or industry’s idea of perfect,” Upton tells Sports Illustrated. “For SI to emphasize every different type of perfect is really inspiring. Those are the campaigns I want to do and the career I want to have — to inspire women to love themselves.”
MJ Day shares that Upton voiced her praise for the SI Swim covers last year, when Ashley Graham was featured as the first curvy model to be featured on the front of the magazine.
“She was proud of SI Swimsuit for taking things in that direction,” Day says. “Kate is the woman who launched a thousand ships and changed the direction of the industry just by being on the cover of Swimsuit. She’s developed a passionate voice about it, advocates for it, and has come under harsh criticism for it. But she maintains you should love your body and celebrate who you are and not try to change for anyone.”
Upton, who is engaged to Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander , has made exercise an important part of her lifestyle, explaining for her, it’s about having the energy to endure long shoots and to stay healthy.
“This year, I had a completely different mindset about my body and instead of always trying to fit in a certain sample size, I wanted to be strong and healthy,” she says. “Changing my workout and focusing on weight training helped me do that. It helped me think about my body as a machine and less of something people can judge me on. People feel ashamed when they look bad one day, but it’s okay not to love yourself every second of every day. Appreciate what your body can do.”
Some of Upton’s SI Swim highlights include posing in a puffer coat (with nothing underneath!) in Antarctica in 2013 and that time that she brought her famous curves to the zero gravity chamber for the 2014 issue, proving she truly does defy gravity.
This year, however, the model shot her covers on the gorgeous beaches of Fiji, returning to her frill-free bikini modeling roots.
“I wasn’t sent to space or Antarctica. I got to enjoy just a lovely beach shoot,” she says. “Even though I love an adventure, it was nice and still was far away but it was low-key compared to my past ones. It’s crazy when a 16-hour flight to Fiji is low-key, but for me and SI it was.”
Day maintains that the three cover shots weren’t planned, but when Kate started shooting “each photo was coming back just as great as the next.”
Day, along with photographer Yu Tsai, saw the possibility for multiple covers — the sequin Alexandre Vauthier jacket moment “that was an homage to her Antarctica cover,” the traditional “sexy SI cover” and the naked moment with only jewelry.
“We just went for it on the third one when her stylist asked about a shot with only jewelry,” Day explains.