It all started with over 10,000 women who submitted videos on Instagram and showed up for our first-ever, in-person casting call in Miami. From there, we narrowed the pool to 67 outstanding candidates. Then, dreams came true for our #SISwimSearch Sweet 16 when they walked the SI Swimsuit x Paraiso runway in South Beach during Swim Week in July.
So what was in store next for them? When we brought the ladies of this year’s model search back down to South Beach in November for a celebrity soccer match to benefit Best Buddies and Little Lighthouse, we also tasked them with their first official photoshoot. In collaboration with our friends at swimwear company FAE, the final 16 women of #SISwimSearch rocked a collection of stunning black bikinis and one-pieces from the brand’s evergreen collection. And the results were as hot as you think.
Scroll down to see all of the images from this super, steamy photo shoot and to learn more about why each of the women in this year’s model search competition want to be a part of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit family.
Photographs by Kessler Tran
Baton Rouge, Fla.
"To be part of something as positive and empowering for women as #SISwimSearch at this moment in history is a tremendous honor. I am so proud of all the courageous women who have put themselves out there to inspire other women to live the one life they have with love, joy and and a sense of purpose uninhibited by judgement."
“I thought that having a mastectomy and undergoing three reconstructive surgeries was going to be the hardest experience of my life. But I quickly learned that the pain of having surgery was nothing compared to what it would take to learn to love my new body. This surgery—my scars—likely meant that the 'glamorous, sexy, fun' things that I wanted to experience in life would no longer be possible. But the day I was chosen as a Sweet 16 finalist changed everything. MJ Day and the Sports Illustrated team, continuing to break barriers, took a chance on a woman like me. Their faith in me was a powerful reminder that no matter what society, or anyone else might tell me, my life wasn’t over; it was just beginning. This opportunity has shown me the power of my voice and afforded me the opportunity to impact the lives of other women. I cannot wait to see what incredible things come next.”
Silver Spring, Md.
"Being a part of #SISwimSearch means having the chance of a lifetime to become one of the models I’ve always admired in the pages of Sports Illustrated. But unexpectedly for me, the Swim Search became a sisterhood of powerful and uplifting women who cheer for you just as much as you cheer for yourself. And I’ve loved being a part of that!”
"Being a part of the #SISwimSearch has helped me unify my community in different parts of the world as well as influencing an entire generation of young girls to be strong in mind, body, and spirit while changing the way the world perceives how that strength should look.”
"I want to thank all of you not only for giving me the chance to be a part of this journey but for giving the chance TWICE! I will never ever forget what you did to me, unlike the rest of the industry which has always doubted my abilities to be a good model. #SISwimSearch is not only a contest, it’s a dream come true to be able to meet such amazing people, such strong women and incredible personalities. You helped me to show my voice, to fight against my shyness, to accept myself as I am with all my flaws and qualities, with my body, my mind, my hair… my French accent! I admire the way you are using your power to show to all the word how much all the woman are amazing in their own skin, no matter what! 'Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stand up for all women.’ To be an official Sport Illustrated model or to end at the Sweet 16 is an honor and a source of pride to be chosen to represent your world!”
Key Largo, Fla.
"Indescribable joy doesn’t even begin to express this experience for me. This has been a chance to chase a lifelong dream. A chance to look back on, and show my daughter to never stop chasing her wildest dreams no matter the obstacles. A chance to show women of all shapes and sizes that they are beautiful, and to be confident in who they are. And what has come from this experience has been this incredible moment for my daughter and I, and a movement for mothers worldwide to show that no one can stand in your way, that you can work and be a mother all at the same time, and that women can truly do it all."
Laura Elizabeth Woo
"I feel so blessed to be a part of the #SISwimSearch. During the process, I have learned a ton about myself and found much more confidence and determination. I am very honored to be along side such wonderful women for the chance to further my career and share positivity with the world. I am extremely excited about how SI gives me a platform to empower people to see the worth in themselves and others around them. It is so important to love ourselves and the people in our lives. We are only as good as the team around us, so why not build each other up? It has been very meaningful to be apart of the SI Swim Search where it’s all about women empowering each other! This process has not felt like a competition at all. It has felt like a family. I am so beyond thankful.”
“#SISwimSearch has opened my eyes to my true potential as a model, friend, activist, and woman. Being surrounded by the Sweet 16 and Sports Illustrated family has motivated me to be the strongest, most confident version of myself. We are all women who have stories to tell, and the #SISwimSearch has given each of us the platform to empower and inspire other women.”
"This experience with #SISwimSearch can be summed up in one word: empowering. I have unlocked my courage and potential that I always knew was deep inside me but disregarded because of my own personal fears; I am now going after everything I have ever wanted in life. This experience has made me realize, understand and embrace everything being a woman is—strong, confident, fierce and fearless. I love myself more in this moment than I ever have.”
"Being apart of the #SISwimSearch means shattering beauty standards and kicking down doors that normally wouldn’t open up for women like me. This competition gave me a platform to show the underrepresented that our possibilities are as limitless as our imagination and that there is always a space for us to grow wherever we decide to be planted!”
“To be a part of #SISwimSearch means to be a part of the body diversity, to be embraced for who you are, no matter size, shape or ethnicity. It have made me stronger in myself and realized even more that everyone is as good as they are and shouldn’t change for the industry.”
"Being a part of the #SISwimSearch means, in a world where ‘perfect' is so one-dimensional, embracing every facet of who we are as individuals, giving society no choice but to accept it, and then inspiring others to do the same. From women of different sizes to women with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I’ve seen everyone of them lauded and empowered through this brand and I want to continue that legacy everywhere I go.”
"Being chosen to be a part of the #SISwimSearch is a dream come true. While I’ve always been self-conscious about my appearance, I’ve learned self-love and confidence throughout this process. This has not only been a unique and empowering experience, but it has most importantly taught me to feel comfortable in my own skin. It has always been a dream of mine to be a part of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit family. I’ve strived towards this since I moved to the United States, when I was only 10 years old. After dedicating most of my late teens and early twenties to modeling, hoping to one day represent Latinas, and women who feel diminished due to their physique, this feels like a breath of fresh air. This whole experience has taught me that you don’t need to give into industry standards to do what you love or live out your dreams. That when you believe in yourself and unapologetically own who you are, anything is possible. That there is nothing more valuable than loving yourself and that alone is what makes you stand out!
"This has been an experience of a lifetime and I am humbled and so thankful to be able to use my platform to inspire women to love themselves for who they are, to embrace their true beauty, be comfortable in their own skin and to keep chasing their dreams no matter how unreachable they seem. Being part of #SISwimSearch has allowed me to connect with so many people on so many different levels and it has shown me that even though we are all different and have our own stories to tell, we can all relate somehow. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is a brand that celebrates diversity, playing a huge role in the movement of body positivity and self acceptance. Thank you for continuously making a change in the industry and allowing me to be a part of this incredible team. I am beyond grateful for the experience!”
Los Angeles, Calif.
"Being a part of the #SISwimSearch Sweet 16 has been a dream come true and more than I could have ever hoped for. I now have 15 big sisters from all walks of life that have not only shown me how to exude confidence, love myself, and be appreciative of all body types but also that love doesn’t just come from the ones we are blood related too. I have a new family in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. I am so enterally grateful that I have gotten this amazing opportunity so young, and it has truly shaped me into a stronger and more kick ass woman today. I love you all so much, thank you for everything.”
Los Angeles, Calif.
“Being part of the #SISwimSearch means joining and being inspired by a group of diversely multifaceted women. It means embracing myself and my culture on my own terms, and has helped me find the courage and confidence to chase my dreams. I am forever grateful.”
“I arrived at the casting with hope in my heart and left with strength in my soul. I have always learned never to take for granted the blessings and opportunities we have in this life. My brother is a constant reminder of this. He is unable to talk due to his disabilities but his smile and his laughter will light up a room. He taught me that a pure heart can be visible no matter the circumstances. He doesn’t adhere to the underlying schemes and biases that some people do; no pre-judgments of anyone or anything. You know will laugh at the simplest of things just because it makes him happy. Not because he has to keep up appearances or beau case he feels obligated to. This kind of authenticity is something I’ve tried to enforce in my life; to be authentically, unapologetically oneself without any limits. What makes me purely happy is being surrounded by empowered and unrestrained women uplifting each other, in spite of any diversity, in the direction towards the hopes they thought existed only in their imagination. I thought of this when we competed in the charity soccer match with Best Buddies—for me, this is giving back. Giving back to the kind of individuals that provide us hope for an improved, inclusive future. The class of experience being a part of Sports Illustrated has offered me, and all the other 15 inspirited and enigmatic women is unmatched. Thank you for giving us the light we so hoped for to shine. Thank you for allowing us to be authentically us."