Model, actor and author Paulina Porizkova, now 54, was at age 18 the first woman from Central Europe to take a cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue in 1984.
Paulina is back for the 2019 SI Swimsuit Issue, trusting the instincts of editor MJ Day. AOC doesn’t know how this newly-formated swimsuit issue will deliver, but MJ Day deserves an Oscar of some kind. Day is truly trying to break new ground in traditionally-rigid male gaze territory.
Paulina is in Kenya as a “core girl” for the swimsuit issue, lensed by Yu Tsai. / Hair by John Ruggiero and makeup by Tracy Murphy.
Paulina Porizkova let’s it rip, confronting ageism head-on, no flinching. Congrats to both women, because we need more of this.
PP: “For the last decade or so, I’ve had a recurring nightmare. I’m on a photo shoot for ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’ at my current age. The sun is setting on a beach, I’m in a bikini, pumped and ready to shoot, but am ignored in favor of much younger models. As the sun plunges below the horizon, so does my heart as I realize my age has rendered me essentially invisible.
Then a few months ago SI called to ask if I’d like to be one of the core “girls” in the upcoming issue. I’d be the oldest core girl. Ever. “
PP: I landed my first SI cover 35 years ago, and the trajectory of my career changed overnight. But these days, you’ll most likely find me behind a desk, or more truthfully, behind the kitchen table, with crap reality TV on in the background as I write. I write fiction and nonfiction, and have been militant about ageism: I’m deeply offended on behalf of all of us women who are rendered socially invisible once we look a certain age. Certainly, today’s 50 is not yesterday’s 50. While I am, at times, proud to look my age, when someone on social media calls me a wrinkled hag, I have to do a lot of slow breathing. So I had to wrestle with the question: How do I feel about being the old lady in SI? Do they really want me—or am I here because of what I represent?
“It says here there are two models. So, where is the other one?”
PP: “My acceptance took a rude hit in the Nairobi airport. After a 16-hour ight, we all looked the way people do after long flights, except for Haley (Kalil), the other model traveling with me. At 25, she was exactly as beautiful as when we boarded. No bags under her eyes, no weird folds from sleeping on a sweater and no bed-head hair. That’s when our airport guide, a man in his 60s, took a head count and announced, “One of you is missing.” He shook a sheet of paper as if to somehow dislodge the missing person and stared right through me as he continued: “It says here there are two models. So, where is the other one?”
PP: Back in the old days, the best bikinis were saved for that last 10 minutes of light. In a week’s shoot, you could tell the favorites for a cover by how many sunsets they got. This time, I wasn’t kidding myself; I knew I wasn’t in the running for a cover. Still, as we got ready for my one sunset, MJ handed me my favorite bikini and photographer Yu Tsai helped me to stand on a tree branch that overlooked the mangrove bay. We had very little time in which to capture the magic. As I balanced myself on the tree, sucking in my stomach for all I was worth, the sun snowballed into a grey cloud. It wasn't exactly a sunset, but we got a shot.
PP: In my nightmare I was upset because I was bypassed because of my age. Now, I realized it was all about just being invited. By hiring me, MJ had cracked open the door to another possibility: the visible mature woman. Or, let’s just say: the hot old lady.
See all editor MJ Day’s groundbreaking work at Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Online.