According to Aly Raisman, her nude photo spread in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit represents an empowering experience for her, as well as an opportunity to change how people view sexual assault victims.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman spoke with Refinery29 health writer Cory Stieg about her approach to body positivity and her own body image journey.
As one of the subjects in Sports Illustrated’s In Her Own Words project, Aly poses for the magazine with words depicting aspects of her identity scribbled across different parts of her body. In an interview with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, Aly Raisman described how her nude photo spread acted as an empowering experience for her.
Interview: The Olympic gold medalist (pictured on Wednesday night at the launch of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue in New York City) discussed the naked photo shoot.
Brave: Aly is one of several women who appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue Naked. 23-year-old Aly posed for the shoot not long after testifying against pedophile physician Larry Nassar at his trial. In addition to ‘survivor,’ ‘fierce’, and ‘trust yourself,’ the gymnast also selected messages for her body to convey, including ‘survivor’, ‘fierce’, and ‘trust yourself’.
In fact, she revealed that MJ Day, editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, had chosen not to be present during the photo shoot in order to ensure the security of the women participating in the shoot.
According to Aly, the experience was ‘really, really cool’. In my opinion, the entire day was extremely empowering. It felt really good to be strong. Having the word “survivor” across my chest and not being ashamed of those words felt good. I believe that everyone has survived something at some point in their lives. We have all been through traumatic or difficult experiences.
After delivering a powerful victim impact statement during the ex- doctor’s sentencing hearing last month, Aly has become an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and wants both her voice and others to be heard. There is no need for women to be modest in order to be respected. I stand by what I put on my body.
‘I want to try to change the conversation to where it shouldn’t be scary for people to come forward,’ she added.
‘And it is, I can tell you from personal experience, it’s very hard to come forward and to be honest about something you’ve been through that is hard’.
It is important to recognize that we live in a society where everyone’s life appears perfect, and I want to change the conversation so that if someone goes through something difficult, is currently experiencing a tough time, or suffers in silence, we can get help.
I want to encourage people to use their voices and encourage everyone else around them to support them so that when people do come forward, we will believe them, listen to them, and act appropriately.
‘Because nobody deserves to be abused or to feel uncomfortable.’ According to Aly, she is aware that some people may disagree with her spread. However, she is firmly committed to it and its message. In her words, ‘I stand by what I put on my body; women are not required to be modest to be respected’.
“I stand by the practice of posing in a sexy bikini.”. It is okay to be sexy. Wear whatever outfit you wish, and you can still be powerful, strong, advocating for change, kind, good, and respected.
In addition to expressing her appreciation for those who have supported her, she also described how she intends to continue to work to change people’s perceptions of assault.
She posed with the words ‘truthful and empowering’ written across her body, including ‘survivor’.
Team: As part of Sports Illustrated’s nude shoot, Aly joins fellow stars Sailor Brinkley Cook, Paulina Porizkova, and Robyn Lawley.
Impressions: Aly says, “For the shoots, I was excited but also nervous at the beginning because it was a new experience for me.”
Inspiration: According to Aly, one of the messages behind the shoot is that women do not have to be modest in order to be respected.
Advocate: Aly’s shoot provided her with the opportunity to take control in front of the camera and to direct how the photos were taken.
We must continue to educate others so that they understand that if you walk alone late at night in an alleyway, whatever you are wearing, you should never be attacked,’ she said. “And I think there are people who truly believe that if you wear a sexy outfit, you are asking for it, and I find that disgusting”. This is not acceptable.”.
Moreover, Aly has become a voice of body positivity, partnering with Aerie last month on an unretouched advertisement campaign. No matter what outfit you wear, you should never, ever be attacked.
As she is still determining what body positivity means to her, she feels that it entails ‘figuring out how to be the best version of yourself and not comparing yourself to other people’.
It is important to respect other people, to be kind to people, to stop body shaming, but also to appreciate oneself and to stop body shaming oneself. There is no doubt that it is easier said than done.
The feeling we have when we wake up each morning is different. There are days when I look in the mirror and am pleased with how I appear. On other days, you may pick yourself apart without even realizing it.
During these times, I try to take a deep breath, realize what I am doing, and shift my focus towards what I enjoy about my body, as this is not healthy. It is also important for me to think about methods of talking about my insecurity if I feel insecure.
As a young girl, the gymnast has said she was bullied because of her muscular frame, recalling how boys in her class would sometimes find her body shape disgusting. The combination of this and the expectation that gymnasts be thin caused her and her teammate Simone Biles, now 20, to believe they did not possess the ‘right bodies’ for gymnastics.
There are seven Olympic gold medals between Aly and Simone.
In reflecting on her and Simone’s past self-doubts, Aly said that it was kind of crazy that they did not believe that their bodies were good enough.
It is evident that some people will not agree with the message of the spread, but the athlete insists that she stands firmly by it.
Impressions: ‘The whole day was empowering. During the shoot, she said, “I felt very strong”.
According to Aly, young women who are pursuing their dreams should compete only with themselves and refrain from comparing themselves to others.
She concluded by saying, “Trust yourself.”. In other words, trust your instincts. In the event of something that doesn’t feel right, it is important to ask questions and speak up. The important thing is to always remember that you have a voice and that you deserve to be heard.
In Sports Illustrated’s striking black and white photographs, which include Aly’s, were taken by Taylor Ballantyne for the magazine’s “In Her Own Words” project, which marks the evolution of Sports Illustrated’s iconic swimsuit issue in light of ongoing efforts to promote women’s equality.
Along with Aly, Sailor Brinkley Cook, Paulina Porizkova, and Robyn Lawley also participated in Sports Illustrated’s nude shoot.
During the week leading up to the publication of the issue, Sailor, 19, Paulina, 52, and Robyn, 28, stripped to reveal their bodies covered with words that represent how they see themselves, with their pictures being shared with the world one week before the release of the issue in print.
As she told Sports Illustrated, Aly is thrilled to appear for the second year in a row in the issue. She posed in an athletic-themed bikini spread last year.
“This year has a special meaning to me because it is such an exciting time for women. Everyone should feel free to express themselves however they choose.”
‘As for the shoots, I was both enthusiastic and nervous at first, since it was still a new experience for me. When we began shooting, I immediately felt comfortable because everyone on set was so supportive! ’
In Aruba, Aly posed for photographer James Macari for a bikini shoot.
In addition to her bikini spread, the gymnast also appeared in a more conventional shoot for the magazine.
This is not Aly’s first appearance in the magazine; last year, she appeared in the swimsuit issue with an athletic theme.
Free: According to Aly, women (or anyone) should be able to wear what makes them feel comfortable and happy.
Statement: Aly, who is an advocate for body positivity, has said society places too much pressure on women and young girls to look “perfect ”.
Finding her angles: Aly said she was initially nervous during the shoots, but her team’s supportive attitude helped her relax.
Significant: ‘This year has a special meaning to me because it is such a significant time for women, and everyone should be able to express themselves freely,’ Aly explained.
Speaking out: After facing her abuser in court and delivering an incredibly strong statement last month, the gymnast wants to make her voice heard.
During the release of the spread, Aly previously explained that her images conveyed a message of respect for women.
According to her, women (or anyone for that matter) should be able to wear whatever they feel comfortable and happy in. Women and young girls are under too much pressure to appear “perfect” in our society, and we should stop doing so.
“I am proud that SI Swim uses women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. There is a unique story behind each woman in this issue, and I am privileged to be a part of it.”
Having made headlines after staring down her abuser in court and delivering a powerful statement, the gymnast wants her example to serve as a model for others seeking to assert themselves.
Aly, who twice captained her country’s gymnastics team at the Olympics, stated that she takes the responsibility of being a role model very seriously. “I am proud to be considered a role model, and I hope that by using my voice there will be a positive effect on future generations.”
‘Everyone deserves a sense of safety and to be heard. We must listen to those that speak up and offer our help’.
In the nude: Sailor Brinkley Cook (pictured) joins Paulina Porizkova, Robyn Lawley, and a cast of other models in Sports Illustrated’s nude swimsuit spread.
A striking pose: Robyn posed with the words ‘creative’ and ‘nurturer’ printed on her upper body as a representation of how she sees herself
Despite the fact that poses while nude may not seem like a significant departure from the publication’s traditional projects, those responsible for the shoot said that the nakedness was a means of expressing the models’ ‘voice, strength, and passion… in the rawest form’.
The purpose was to use the kinds of images that readers expect from the magazine as a platform for delivering a more meaningful and empowering message. In fact, this is the first time a fully nude spread – shot by a female photographer – will appear in this publication, which had previously emphasized raunchy shots featuring risque swimwear.
‘In Her Own Words is a continuation and evolution of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit,’ the publication states on its website. “It is a platform that allows the voice, the strength, and the passion of women to be expressed rawly…on the naked body…with full artistic and creative control.”
This particular shoot was conducted in a stripped-down studio in order to accommodate the models’ doubts regarding the prospect of posing nude in front of cameras and a crew of people.
‘We have handed over the control to the women who are the core of our brand,’ it explained online. ‘We believed in them, supported them and encouraged them to become a canvas for their truth.’
In the opinion of editor MJ Day, the shoot marks a major shift in the magazine, one that has been long anticipated.
In Vanity Fair, she explained that she hoped to continue diversifying the magazine beyond the rather narrow standards of beauty it previously recognized and celebrated.
‘Why do we only believe in ourselves that there is a particular type of person worthy of recognition? ’ she asked. There is no truth in that, and we all know it, and we all live it, yet it continues to be propagated in the media.
In her response to Vanity Fair, she explained that this does not mean that the magazine will cease publishing those sexy beach shoots that have been published for years – rather, she hopes to change the way the images, and especially the women in them, are perceived.
The goal is to ensure that women are not harassed or judged for who they are or how they present themselves in the world. She explained that there is an underlying theme running throughout the Swimsuit Issue.
“You have Harvard graduates, you have billion-dollar moguls, you have philanthropists, you have teachers, you have mothers in the alumnae of this magazine, and not one of them failed because she wore a bikini.”