Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue is usually filled with an array of standard-issue beauties (voluptuous but more or less sample-sized, and primarily in their 20s). This year’s release is punctuated by a first — the oldest model to appear in the popular issue’s pages, ever. She’s not in an editorial spread, alas, but 56-year-old model Nicola Griffin appears in Swimsuitsforall’s ad campaign. Believe it or not, Griffin had never worn a bikini before appearing in the ads. "I didn’t realize I’d be wearing a bikini, and I was a little anxious — in my entire life, I’ve never been in a bikini,” she tells Refinery29. “I’ve always been more comfortable in full swimsuits that hold everything in. It was very liberating, actually. I’ve got a rounded tummy — I’ve had twins — and I found that to be quite sexy while wearing a gold bikini.” “I’m fed up of seeing only slim, twentysomething girls in advertisements," Griffin adds. "I can’t relate to size-0 models, and I can’t see myself in those clothes. Most people don’t have [the] perfect photoshopped body,” she says, finishing on an empowering note. “By being 56 and wearing a bikini, hopefully I can empower women of my age to be sexy — not just when they’re wearing swimsuits.”
Plus-size models Ashley Graham (below) and Philomena Kwao (above) also starred in the Swimsuitsforall campaign alongside Griffin. “Ashley has this curvy body and is so proud of it. I spent a lot of my life on diets, talking about calories with my girlfriends. Boring, boring!” Griffin says. “Years ago, if you had a curvy body you’d cover it up, be on a diet, and not talk about it. Now, you can just be who you are, and that’s amazing.” Graham also starred in Swimsuitsforall’s #CurvesInBikinis campaign that ran in last year’s Swimsuit Issue — arguably garnering nearly as much attention for the ads as Robyn Lawley did for being the first plus-size model to be featured in the Issue’s editorial coverage.
“It is amazing for my two daughters to see that women don’t have be on a diet or be slim to have a beautiful curvy body,” Griffin says of the campaign’s most significant impact. “It’s a really important message.” Check out some exclusive behind-the-scenes shots of Griffin and Graham, below: