Martha Stewart & Sports Illustrated: Breaking Barriers

At age 81, Martha Stewart is the oldest cover model for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition ever. Let's look at the impact of this historic feat.
Martha Stewart

When you think of Sports Illustrated magazine, chances are good you conjure up images of supermodels and professional athletes aged 30 or younger in their glory years. They have perfect bodies and faces, making us all feel less-than-great about how we look and feel.

Well, that has just changed thanks to the magazine’s newest issue. The world was surprised when the face gracing the cover of the iconic sexy magazine was no other than lifestyle guru and entrepreneur Martha Stewart.

The unexpected pairing of Martha Stewart and Sports Illustrated has undoubtedly sparked conversation as Martha becomes the oldest woman to land an SI cover at the age of 81.

Let’s dive into the significance of Martha Stewart’s appearance on the cover and its impact on redefining expectations and breaking barriers.

Redefining Expectations

Martha Stewart SI Cover
Photo: Ruven Afanador/Sports Illustrated

For a long time, it’s felt that the only women who are worthy of a sports magazine cover were young with sexy bodies to boot. Traditionally, these covers have been ruled by athletes and models, showcasing their physical prowess or achievements in sports and body, and years of perfecting their workouts, eating a seemingly impossible diet, and mastering their looks seemingly landed them on the cover.

Then comes Martha Stewart. Not only does she break the mold with her age, but also with her redefinition of prowess. She’s no athlete or supermodel. Instead, she’s an entrepreneur and a lifestyle guru who has also had a short stint in jail.

The kind of strength Martha Steward embodies differs from the others that typically are on Sports Illustrated covers. She has built an empire over the years with her culinary skills, homemaking expertise, and entrepreneurial spirit. Her work ethic and dedication to her craft are no different than the discipline and commitment of professional athletes, just with a completely different goal in mind.

By featuring Martha on the cover, Sports Illustrated acknowledges that strength extends far beyond the physical.

Breaking Agism Barriers

Martha’s Sports Illustrated cover is also revolutionary because it sends a powerful message about challenging ageism in media, especially regarding magazines promoting young and sexy bodies. At the age of 81, Martha Stewart has defied what it means to be a cover model and has shown that beauty, confidence, and success can transcend the boundaries of age.

Martha Stewart’s Sports Illustrated cover showcases her multidimensionally and highlights the importance of embracing change and pushing boundaries. She represents a triumph for those women who dare to defy expectations and not let hurdles get in their way. Martha’s impact goes far beyond the pages of the magazine whose cover she grace and into the rest of the world, where she inspires individuals from all walks of life to create their own narrative and march to the beat of their own drum.

Martha has had to redefine herself throughout the years, and this cover shows that it’s never too late to explore new ventures and embrace fresh opportunities. She didn’t let her time in jail ruin her life. Instead, she picked up the pieces of her life post-jail and continued to work hard to make a name for herself yet again that garnered respect, albeit in different ways than your typical Sports Illustrated cover model.  

Why We Love It

This move by Sports Illustrated opens the door for even more diverse inclusion in the media, which we are thrilled about. Rather than feeling bound by age, athletic ability, or body type, this cover inspires people to embrace their passions, pursue their dreams, and celebrate their accomplishments, regardless of stereotypes.

You should never have to limit your potential or opportunities for recognition; this cover is a reminder of that. We love that Sports Illustrated has acknowledged that there are many ways to define success and beauty and isn’t afraid to show it.

This cover significantly impacts the audience, especially for younger generations. It empowers young girls to embrace their unique passions and confidently pursue their dreams, which we need more of in this world.

And women of older generations feel the effect of this too. It helps to reframe their beauty in a new way and see that age does not define beauty. Rather, beauty is something that transcends age and comes from within.

Rather than feeling like you have to fit a specific mold, you can set goals and achieve greatness in your own unique way that tells a very different story.

Martha Stewart’s Sports Illustrated cover is a symbol of challenging stereotypes, promoting age diversity, reinvention, and the changing definition of beauty and success. We certainly feel inspired by this and hope you do, too.

Where are They Now?

While Martha is certainly blazing a trail with her historic cover shot at age 81, she’s not the first Prime Woman to be featured. For example, model and actress Paulina Porizkova has been featured twice: once in 1984 and again in 2019, when she became the oldest model (at that time) to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue at age 55. To commemorate Martha’s cover shoot, she posted some throwback bikini pics of herself from her SI experience. In the post, she noted that as great as all the ladies look, she’s not oblivious to the thought that “to be seen as beautiful at our age, we better not actually look our age.” It’s an interesting thought and one that isn’t unique to her.

Even as recently as 2022, we had a Prime Woman on the cover of SI. Maye Musk (mother to famous Elon) dazzled in her cover shoot, wearing a colorful one-piece swimsuit at age 74.

Maye Musk Sports Illustrated CoverMaye Musk Sports Illustrated Cover
Photo: Ben Watts/Sports Illustrated

In an interview with the magazine, Maye said, “I’m very excited to let people know that women in their 70s are gorgeous.” We can’t agree more.

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