Kate Upton Is Back

The model has returned for her fourth ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’ cover in honor of the publication’s 60th anniversary issue.

<p>Yu Tsai/ Sports Illustrated</p>

Yu Tsai/ Sports Illustrated

It’s nearly impossible to hear Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and not think of Kate Upton. The model has become one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise, contributing to the brand’s longstanding efforts to include diverse bodies on their covers. Upton was first featured on the front of SI Swimsuit back in 2012 in a cover she was heavily criticized for.

“[The cover] created a lot of body conversations. It was basically fat-shaming at that time,” Upton tells InStyle. “When I experienced being on the cover, I was 18 years old, and everyone was talking about me before I'd really figured out who I was. Everyone was telling me who I was. It made me expedite my journey of finding out what I stood for, who I was, why I was doing this job, why I was going through this criticism.”

Upton has since gone on to become a member of the elite club of women who have covered the famed magazine three or more different times (the legendary Elle Macpherson holds the record with five). And now, Upton has returned for her fourth centerfold for the publication’s 60th anniversary edition.

On May 14, the publication, which was founded in 1964, released seven anniversary covers—lensed by famed photographer Yu Tsai—starring Upton, Gayle King, Chrissy Teigen, and Hunter McGrady. The brand also dropped a special Legends cover with an iconic group shot of industry greats including Upton, King, Teigen, McGrady, Brenna Huckaby, Brooklyn Decker, Brooks Nader, Camille Kostek, Christie Brinkley, Danielle Herrington, Hailey Clauson, Halima Aden, Jasmine Sanders, Kate Love, Leyna Bloom, Lily Aldridge, Martha Stewart, Maye Musk, Megan Rapinoe, Molly Sims, Nina Agdal, Paige Spiranac, Paulina Porizkova, Roshumba Williams, Sue Bird, Tyra Banks, and Winnie Harlow.

<p>Yu Tsai/ Sports Illustrated</p>

Yu Tsai/ Sports Illustrated

Related: Why 'Sports Illustrated' Model Yumi Nu Likes to Buy Her Swimsuits "Two Sizes Too Small"

Red being the undisputed color of the year, Upton poses on the 2024 cover in a sexy pin-up-style ruby-and-pink striped Normaillot bikini with ruffled details, as well as a Baywatch-inspired one-piece with gold chain detailing along the straps.

She says being a part of the publication’s major milestone was an honor. Since her last cover in 2017, Upton has since become a mother to her daughter Genevieve, whom she shares with husband and MLB star Justin Verlander. “I think having a daughter has really made me way more passionate about the messaging that's out there for young women,” she says. “The pressure to edit your photos or to always want to change your appearance, whether it's through makeup or surgery, that is something we do not need to be putting on our youth.”

Motherhood has certainly shaped the way she views self-care. “I feel way more passionate about being healthy and finding that balance in life and showing her that nobody's perfect,” she says. “Everyone has good days and bad days and [I’m] passionate about having that be more of a through-line in the industry.”

Read on for Upton’s take on the industry’s progress in diverse body inclusion, how her daughter helps her pick out her clothes, and how game-day fashion has changed her street style.

You've been open in the past about how you received criticism when you were first starting out in your career. How do you think that the industry has progressed since your first Sports Illustrated cover?

People are really shocked at that conversation that happened, which really shows how far the industry has come since then, that people are surprised that major legitimate publications and TV networks were talking like that. People are being more aware of what they're saying and who they're casting to represent a more realistic image.

What work do you feel still needs to be done?

There's still further we could go in the mental health conversation, especially with social media. Everyone is now opening themselves up to all this criticism and wants to portray this perfect life and putting pressure on [themselves] to have it all: be a perfect mom, wife, student or [employee]. That creates so much anxiety and social pressure that I think more people need to talk about mental health and what they've gone through and how they've limited that stress. Even the person that we all look at as having the perfect body doesn't feel perfect all the time.

How do you manage the stress that comes with the pressure of being “perfect?”

We've got to give ourselves a break. It's okay to not feel your best always and to not shame yourself when you're having a bad day; to kind of sit in it, allow it. I always like to go back to the education place: I'm going to eat really well tomorrow because I feel like I have no energy or I feel like my skin isn't the best, so I'm going to give the right nutrients to my body and go on a walk.

Wanting to be good to your body because you love it, not because you want to change it.

Exactly. We have to be easier on ourselves when we're [having] our down days. I want to be the best mom I can be and have the ability to work these long hours on set. I want to have the strength, I want to properly have the nutrition. I think it allows you to have a fulfilled life.

This is your fourth SI Swimsuit cover, and you’re one of the few women to be featured on the cover more than three times. Elle MacPherson holds the record with five covers, so is she someone you look up to?

As a kid, I always looked up to the models in Sports Illustrated: Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Elle MacPherson, Kathy Ireland, Christie Brinkley—the list goes on. There's just such iconic women in Sports Illustrated. With MJ [Day] being the editor, she's pushed the conversation. She and I started together on such different levels that it's like every year SI starts these huge conversations in the industry. Whether you like them or don't like them, they're starting these conversations. I think that that's really important to fashion because a lot of people play it safe in fashion, and MJ has never done that. And that's something that I'm so happy to be aligned with for the brand.

What do you hope other young women and men learn from your career?

I hope that young women take away really [knowing] who you are and to be confident in who you are. Not everyone's going to like you, but that doesn't mean that you don't deserve to be there. I hope that young women know that their voice matters, and they should speak to the change that they feel needs to be seen. Society puts pressure on women to not speak, and I think it's important to voice your opinion. I also hope women understand that you have good days and bad days. You don't feel your best sometimes, and that's okay. Don't beat yourself up. I think that what makes us unique is how we all are individuals, and we all look different. It's really hard in your youth to accept your differences or your imperfections, but continue to try to love yourself because that's what makes you different.

You’re hosting Hulu’s upcoming fashion competition series, Dress My Tour. How is the process of hosting different from modeling and acting?

Well, anything you do that you haven't done before is hard. It was definitely different because I always think that in modeling, you're creating a character. With every outfit or every click of the camera you're trying to say something or create this character, what she would be doing there. With acting, you have one character that you're creating, and you're really sitting with who that person is for three-plus months. With hosting, I'm [being] myself, saying things that normally I wouldn't say in an everyday world.

You’ve previously said that your daughter Genevieve has great style. Does she ever help you pick out looks?

Oh, she always helps me pick out outfits. Whenever I have a fitting, she gives her opinion. Even when I'm having that moment where I'm like, What do I wear? She'll come in, she'll be like, ‘Listen, you just wear these sneakers.’ She always puts me in a dress.

Does she pick out her own outfits?

Always. I would never be allowed to pick out her outfit.

Has she seen your SI covers and what does she think?

She'll be like, ‘Oh, you look so beautiful.’ She's a real girl's girl. She is always there for the compliments.

With Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s relationship, WAG style has been having a moment, but you’ve been doing game-day style for a long time. How do you style your game-day ‘fits and do you get any inspiration from Swift or other WAGs?

I mean, football and baseball are very different because football is in the winter, and baseball is in the summer. I would die in a puffer jacket. Baseball style is really fun because it has really made me push myself in my street style. I always felt like I was really great at events or a nice dinner, but I never had great everyday style. As soon as I'd come back home, I'd just be in my cozy clothes.

Now, I really consider myself a sneaker head because of baseball games, and I love getting into that or cool jeans or pants. It's fun to play around with the team's colors. I definitely think I spend more time picking out my outfit than getting stressed about if the team will win or lose. I'm like, Oh yes, I do want to go to today's game because I got this cute dress.

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