When Ashley Graham made her first appearance in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit in 2016, the full-figured rookie earned the coveted cover spot of the special issue.
On the front of the annual bikini-clad magazine, the model served up a fierce look in a purple and orange string bikini covering her tanned skin, while she kept her cool as waves splashed around her.
"This cover will go down in the history books. First of all, Sports Illustrated is known for curvy women on the cover — you know, a sexy, curvy woman, half-naked. And it's tastefully done.... For so long I never thought that I could get covers. For so long I thought that I was so big and so thick that people like Sports Illustrated wouldn't look at me — and for so long I had people telling me that that wouldn't happen," Graham told Elle in 2016 following her exciting news.
"Don't let your image, don't let your size, hold you back. If I had let my hips or my jiggly thighs hold me back or the fact that I've got these big heavy breasts, then I would not be where I am today. And I don't want women to hold themselves back. I think there are too many women who are self-conscious about the way they look ― the way they see themselves in the mirror. I hope that this cover is a testament to them, proving to them that they are beautiful no matter what."
But the cover was just the beginning for Graham, who was just awarded her third spread in the magazine. Want to see what 2018 had in store for the curvy model? Keep scrolling to see her hottest shots from this year's SI Swimsuit issue.
Graham rocked several looks for the latest issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, ranging from fun and flirty outfits to nearly-naked options. To start, the model shared a sexy image of herself posing by a tree in the Caribbean island of Nevis, wearing a bright orange fitted two-piece.
"Excited to be in the 2018 [Sports Illustrated] issue again!!! Thank you to the whole SI crew for making my trip to [Nevis] so epic!" she wrote alongside the teaser image, which led 457,000 fans to double tap.
Graham first appeared on in SI Swimsuit as a rookie in 2016, when she also earned the title of cover model for the popular special issue.
"She’s a champion for all women. There’s no denying that Ashley Graham brings something different to the table. It’s exciting to meet someone who can totally handle this moment, take it, and amplify it, all because of who she is and how she celebrates herself," Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's Assistant Managing Editor MJ Day said of Graham at the time.
Graham pivoted to show her primal side in another shot, one of many by photographer Josie Clough. In the steamy photo, the veteran model rocks a macrame-style nude one-piece that shows off her cleavage and curves.
Fans clearly adored the snap, with 476,000 followers tapping the heart on Instagram.
While fans praised Graham for breaking barriers in the modeling and fashion industry as she was named the first plus-size SI Swimsuit cover model in 2016, she squealed with congratulations and pride for the 2018 cover girl, Danielle Herrington. At 24 years old, Herrington is the third black woman to cover the special magazine since its inception in 1964.
"DANIELLE!!!! Tears of joy for you this morning!" Graham wrote on Instagram to share her love. "Congratulations on breaking even MORE barriers being the [third] black woman to ever grace the cover of [Sports Illustrated Swimsuit]! I have so many emotions. SOAR BABY GIRL!!"
Things took a cheeky turn when Graham shared an image of herself sporting a red-and-white striped suit with a string thong bottom — somehow managing to look flawless while modeling the unconventional beachwear.
“'Show me somethin' natural like a— with some stretchmarks' .. OR cellulite," the America's Next Top Model judge captioned the booty-filled photo with a line from Kendrick Lamar's single "Humble." The wild shot racked up 566,000 likes from followers.
Graham has always been outspoken about her body, including her curves, stretchmarks and cellulite. When she was called "brave" for modeling in a Baywatch-inspired photo shoot that showed off her imperfections, the 30-year-old clapped back to reveal that she is simply doing her job: being real on and off camera.
"Today they're calling me brave because I posted a photo of my cellulite," she said. "The majority of women have cellulite so I'm not going to hide behind Photoshop or retouching — so if the paparazzi gets my cellulite on my big ass, so be it and I'll post it."
"Thick chicks in [Sports Illustrated]," Graham touted in another photo which showed her lying on the beach in a simple white string two-piece. She positioned the bikini bottom ties above her hips and lifted one leg to to accentuate her curves.
Fans applauded the sexy, throwback-style image, giving it 385,000 likes on the 'gram.
Graham has long been an advocate for inclusion in the fashion and modeling industry, but her empowering efforts extend beyond the runway or photo shoots; she longs to give hope to everyday women who should feel happy and secure in their own skin.
“As women, we immerse ourselves in ‘self-improvements,’ which becomes an endless pursuit to renovate our bodies. We are told that thick hair is beautiful, yet thick thighs won't get you a boyfriend. That full lips are sexy, yet full arms should be covered and hidden away," the model told Vogue UK. "But in reality, a lot of us actually like ourselves as we are!”
For a few of her looks, Graham was able to show off her own designs in the swimwear magazine, including one shot in a low-cut black lace-front one-piece with side cutout features. The design is part of her collaboration with Swimsuits For All, a company that offers beachwear for women sizes 4 to 22.
"Thank you [Sports Illustrated Swimsuit] featuring my [Ashley Graham X Swimsuits For All] collection!" she wrote alongside the image of her design, shown off as she struck a pose in the Caribbean water. The sexy shot brought in 184,000 likes from awe-struck followers.
Graham has created three collections with Swimsuits For All with the goal of making every woman feel confident and beautiful in their beachwear, a type of clothing women often see as an uncomfortable task to wear. She is also working to make sure society’s beauty standards are becoming more inclusive, though there’s still work to be done.
“You have to continue to talk about it,” Graham said during a CVS panel called “The Changing Face of Beauty.” “I have always believed that skin color is not a trend, age is not a trend, and my size is not a trend. And that’s why I believe that right now, this can’t be a trend — if our voices are heard loud and clear, it won’t be.”
In another shot, the America's Next Top Model judge did her best Baywatch impression while in a pink and red one-piece cut-out suit from her new signature swimwear line. The model tossed her tousled chocolate locks over her shoulder while looking back at the waves for the shot, which caught the attention of 365,000 of her enthusiastic followers.
To reiterate Graham's point that her Swimsuits For All line is made with every woman in mind, she brought her point home by including her mom in one of her swimsuit ads, clad in a bikini.
“Including my mother in my swimsuit campaign was A) because, I mean, it’s my mama and it’s fun,” Graham said. “But also I wanted women who are 53 — she’s 53 — or whatever age to know that they, too, can get into a bikini or a one-piece and feel just as sexy and confident.”
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit teased Graham's third appearance in the magazine with a playful, sensual video of the model writhing around on the beaches of Nevis. In some clips, she rocked a two-piece while in others, she opted to take off her top and cover her breasts with her hands to show off her confident swagger.
While Graham admits she works to prove that curvy women of all sizes can be beautiful, she previously told New York Magazine she’s really out to show the sex appeal women — any woman — carries, without “dowdy clothes, dowdy lingerie.”
She recalled that one of the best emails she has ever received was “a husband who was thanking me because his wife finally felt comfortable enough in lingerie to have sex with the lights on.”0comments
Secondarily, though, Graham knows the weight she pulls in working toward a more body positive, accepting culture. “This is the thing: I know I’m paving the way for the next generation of girls, and they’re not going to have to do this,” she said. “That’s what I hope. I’ll take the brunt work and just handle it, and then you guys can just sail right on through.”