Through the years, the February edition of Sports Illustrated - the swimwear issue - has received praise for celebrating beauty. Cover stars have included Ashley Graham (a plus-size model), Ronda Rousey (a non-model athlete) and model Christine Brinkley (who is now 63 years old!), showing that there's beauty in all of us. But one thing that has significantly lacked in this celebration of beauty is women of colour. To date, only two black women have graced the cover of the swimwear issue: Tyra Banks in 1995 and Beyoncé in 2007. This poor display of racial diversification is in desperate need for an update, something that a group of sorority sisters took upon themselves to do.
Florida A&M University's Delta Sigma Theta's pledge class of 2007 decided in honour of their 10th anniversary as sorors, they would travel to Costa Rica and have their own Swimsuits Illustrated photo shoot.
All 56 of the 'line sisters' posed in swimwear similar to their own skin tones to celebrate black beauty. Naming the project #MelaninIllustrated, the photographs showed each of the women standing strong, confident and beautiful.
After the images went viral on Instagram, line sister Jardan Doneghy spoke to Glamour: 'We had no idea this would go viral, but the fact that it did is proof that it’s uncommon to see such a large group of real women — mothers, doctors, lawyers, business owners and educated black women — saying, "This is what beauty is."'
Doneghy also talked about how difficult it was to find nude swimwear that wasn't light or pink, but for that of darker skin tones, evidencing that the swimwear market still doesn't properly cater to women of colour. “I spent time reaching out to brands directly, and one in particular has a lot of nudes, but not a lot of brown nudes,” Doneghy said. “They had a lot of pale to pink swimsuits in what they consider ‘nude,’ but that’s not African-American nude, so we did have a lot of difficulty there. It took a lot of planning.”
To Delta Sigma Theta, the photos were to represent each woman's power as well as their beauty. “We didn’t want to do the typical on-the-sand beach photo because beauty to us is about bringing your personal best to the table.” Doneghy added.
I think we can all safely say mission completed. Sports Illustrated must have caught a glimpse or two of these images; hopefully as a result they'll realise what the covers have been missing out on and decide it's time to diversify!
See more of #MelaninIllustrated here!