There’s always been an element of prestige attached to appearing on the front cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue – their yearly edition dedicated entirely to beachwear worn by the world’s top models – but greater acclaim is to be had when you are Martha Stewart, who at the age of 81 is the oldest woman to be photographed for their latest cover – in the words of the New York Times “as nature made her”.
She isn’t the first older woman to grace their front cover. Last year Maye Musk took the title at the age of 74. With a modelling career spanning over 50 years, she knew exactly what she was doing to raise the bar by challenging negative and archaic perceptions of what a front cover swimsuit model should look like. As one of her Instagram followers said at the time: “Women can be beautiful and sexy at any age.” At the age of 81, Martha Stewart certainly seems to be that.
In her New York Times interview Stewart says: “When the offer came, I thought, I can do this. I don’t have to give in to convention.” And she’s right. Does it really matter what age we are when it comes to swimwear? It shouldn’t be a question of what we feel we can get away with, but more what we feel comfortable with, and if that happens to be a scant bikini for poolside or strolling along the beach – why the hell shouldn’t we? Convention is exactly what we should be kicking back against.
And yet – how many of us feel that intermittent sense of invisibility that creeps in with age, but then all too conspicuously visible when we put on swimwear in our midlife and beyond years? Of course we want to break down ageist boundaries, but is it our own reluctance to step out of this particular comfort zone that keeps convention in place? For many women it’s a substantial pre-holiday pause for thought – should we cover up?
For me – it’s a no. If we’re going to do battle against ageism that we know comes in many, many forms, then as we head into summer and the holiday season this is a small stand of choice where we can break convention – if we feel comfortable enough with who we are to do so. I’m not suggesting that every woman over the age of 50 should rush out and buy a string bikini – if you’ve never been one for revealing swimwear then you’re hardly going to start now. What I’m saying is that age should NEVER dictate our choice.
When asked what gave her the gumption to pose for the issue, Stewart said: “It took a bit of vanity but also a bit of confidence. I thought, if I’m feeling good enough physically and mentally to do such a thing, I’m up for it.” And that’s exactly what it has to be about. Not what society might think, not a comparison against the predictable norm, and most definitely not a belief that our ageing bodies won’t look good enough. Frankly, who’s to say what is and isn’t good enough?
If we chose to wear a swimsuit, a tankini, a bikini – or for that matter, absolutely nothing at all – what does it matter to anyone other than ourselves and how it makes us feel. When over 50s invisibility is still very much something we have to deal with, there is immense liberation to be found in being content with who we are, how we look, and having the confidence to share it with others. For me, that’s more than good enough.