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Martha Stewart’s Sports Illustrated cover underscores rise of older women

LIFESTYLE icon Martha Stewart is making history in the 2023 swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, joining the growing ranks of older women reveling in the spotlight at ages when they’re typically forced to the sidelines.

At 81, Ms. Stewart is the oldest cover model in history of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, breaking the record set last year by Maye Musk, who was 75 at the time of her appearance. Also on their own covers this month are actress Megan Fox, model Brooks Nader, and singer Kim Petras. Ms. Stewart’s cover was shot by Ruven Afanador, a photographer she’s worked with in the past, according to MJ Day, SI Swimsuit editor in chief.

“For me it is a testament to good living, and all of us should think about good living, successful living, and not about aging,” Ms. Stewart said Monday on The Today Show. “The whole aging thing is so boring.”

Ms. Stewart is not the oldest magazine cover girl, though. Arguably that honor belongs to Filipino tattoo artist Whang Od who was 106 years old when she was featured on the cover of Vogue Philippines this year.

Still, Sports Illustrated (SI) has made a habit of featuring women of all ages and backgrounds in recent years, including 2021 first-timer Kathy Jacobs, who was 57 at the time, and return shoots with former SI models Christie Brinkley and Paulina Porizkova. Television host Padma Lakshmi, 52, is also featured in the 2023 issue.

Ms. Day, Mr. Afanador and their teams worked with Ms. Stewart and all of their models to prioritize comfort and trust. The magazine is published by Arena Media Brands LLC.

“It’s a mission we have as a brand to have these really important conversations about women and what we essentially don’t need to be up against,” Ms. Day said. The goal is to shatter preconceived notions about what’s possible, she said.

Hollywood is also increasing its focus on older women. Last year, 10 of the top-grossing films featured a leading actress who was 45 or older at the time of release, according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. That’s up from just one film in 2007. By comparison, 35 films released last year featured male actors who were 45 or older at the time of the release.

On the 2023 awards-show circuit, actresses including Angela Bassett, Jennifer Coolidge and Michelle Yeoh used their acceptance speeches to highlight how Hollywood had once counted them out.

Ageism hurts women outside of Hollywood, too. A 2015 paper by researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research found that age bias disproportionately impacts older female workers, and particularly those near retirement age.

“There’s just so many things we have to fight against — telling us, ‘no’ or what we can and can’t be or do,” said SI’s Day. “If we can help that a little bit and change that conversation, then job done.” — Bloomberg

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