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Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2016: Ronda Rousey, Ashley Graham and Hailey Clauson Define What 'Beauty Really Is' as Cover Girls

Updated

The wait is finally over, and it’s Sports Illustrated‘s turn to break the Internet. The 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers — that’s right, there are more than one! — have been revealed, marking the first time in 52 years that the brand has featured different cover girls on three separate magazine fronts. Get ready for a triple threat.

Ashley Graham Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition 2016
James Macari/Sports Illustrated

UFC champion Ronda Rousey, body activist and size-16 model, Ashley Graham, and 2015 SI rookie, Hailey Clauson, each star on their own powerful covers.

The ladies found out about the honor during TNT’s live broadcast event, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2016 Revealed, hosted by Nick Cannon and Rebecca Romijn.

Graham, who wears a purple string bikini for her big SI moment, shared that she couldn’t stop shaking when she found out her cover girl status.

“I thought Sports Illustrated was taking a risk by putting a girl my size in the pages already, but putting me on the cover? They aren’t just breaking barriers, they are the standard now. This is so beyond epic.”

She continued: “To have somebody who has cellulite, who has things that jiggle, who has back fat and actually talk about them and talk about how you can be an overcome and not let society take you down for all of that — that’s real and that’s what we need in this society,” she said. “We need women talking about the things that they’re doing and how they’re changing the world and not judging them only on the outside.”

As for her plans to celebrate, Graham, 28, told People: “I’m gonna go eat a burger. I am so hungry. You have no idea. I want a burger and fries.”

Ronda Rousey Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition 2016
Frederic Pinet/Sports Illustrated

Rousey, 29, shows off her athletic body in a body paint onepiece — the first time a cover model has ever worn body paint.

“This is like a dream I forgot to have and ended up having it anyway,” Rousey told People. “And it really is just an honor to be in a real historical issue like this that is celebrating all body types of women. I really feel like media presents a very cookie cutter image for women to aspire to, which for certain body types it’s just not realistic or healthy. I love that all the covers are three different body types in their healthiest form.”

Rousey added that for someone who was bullied as a child, this cover really helps to break down body image stereotypes.

“I got teased for my muscles a lot growing up,” she said. “I’d be in high school and people would be asking me to flex and grabbing my arms to the point where I was wearing zip up hoodies to cover my arms, even if it was 90 degrees out because I was so self conscious about it. I really think that we’re kind of being shown that you shouldn’t be self conscious about being yourself. There are many different kinds of beauty.”

Hailey Clauson Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition 2016
James Macari/Sports Illustrated

Clauson, 20, ditches her top all together for the “hand bra.” The blonde bombshell shared that the three covers will help inspire young women.

“I think every little girl has somebody to relate to in the issue and every woman stands for something and it’s not just a model,” she shared. “Everybody has a personality.”

People also caught up with MJ Day, the editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, who said she couldn’t be more excited about the three cover models.

“It’s always been an objective of mine to be more inclusive and be more representative of what real beauty is,” Day told People exclusively. “I think that the industry has for a while been stuck. Beauty is subjective. Beauty is not one size fits all. Beauty varies from decade to decade, from country to country, from state to state. This is a platform to really celebrate that and remind people of that.”

Day said that while the covers couldn’t be “more different” from one another, “they all look so nice when you line them up together.”

SI Swim editors take months to choose the cover and there is never a set shoot. This year’s stars didn’t even know of the honor until it was announced on the live special Saturday.

“We do not plan our covers,” Day explained. “We start every year with every single girl who has the potential to be on the cover. You have no idea what the outcome will be. There are so many variables, weather, light, mood. All of the pieces of the puzzle need to come together for it to be that special photograph.”

Day continued that this year it was hard to ignore that there was more than one amazing option.

“When we sat down to look at our cover select possibilities, it was kind of overwhelming how strong everything was,” she shared. “Usually there’s one stand-out photograph that outshines all of the others. This particular year, it was extraordinary what we had to choose from. And it was just like a light bulb. Why not do three? Why only do one? This is such an impactful and super-exciting moment.”

She also maintained that SI Swim has always championed curvy models.

“You see with Kate [Upton], who did not fall into the runway size, and while she’s totally a size 2, her curves spoke otherwise,” Day said. “From that to Robyn [Lawley, the first plus-size model to get a page in SI Swim in 2015] even our core models, they’re curvy girls. You started to see them popping up on the runway, which is so exciting because when I started this job 18 years ago, in the ’90s, that heroin-chic look was in and finding that girl with curves was not an easy thing to do. Our legacy is that we celebrate great and curvy models. The average size in ’85 was a size 8 in America. And the average size now is a size 14 in America. And it doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful.”

💦☀️ for @jenspiratebooty shot by @zoeygrossman and styled by @pursenboots hair and makeup by @staceytan_mua 💕

A photo posted by Hailey Clauson ⚡⭐🌙 (@haileyclauson) on

As for the reaction to the barrier-breaking group of women, Day said she’s prepared for anything.

“Haters gonna hate. I know that. I’m always like, ‘How am I going to make everybody love us?’ ”

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is available on newsstands Feb. 15, and the content will be accessible on the brand new SI Swimsuit App (free on iOS and Android) as well as on SI.com/swimsuit and on tablet editions of the magazine. They are also offering a Virtual Reality experience and a custom Bitmoji!

–Brittany Talarico, with reporting by Alex Apatoff and Blake Bakkila