Sports Illustrated: What emotions did you experience when your name was called to be a part of the #SISwimSearch 60 and then Sweet 17?
Ashley Alexiss: The emotions I felt the weekend of #SISwimSearch were endless. Honestly, I’ve never been that excited yet anxious at the same time. It has been such a build up over the years I’ve been in this industry, that it was almost like an out of body experience to audition for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. Friday night, which was the cut to the top 60, I had that real feeling that I was in the right place at the right time. I just knew in my heart that I was meant for this, to represent anyone who had a dream and to inspire them to chase it. When I got the text that I made top 60, I just cried out of pure gratitude for a solid 10-15 minutes.
Fast forward to the next day and the cut to the Sweet 17. I was number 14 to be called, so I was definitely on the edge of my seat. When Camille showed my photo, my legs actually forgot how to work and I couldn’t get up. For a trailblazer like MJ and the rest of the team to take a chance on you and believe you can represent the Sports Illustrated brand is so special and rewarding. I’m still overcome with emotion.
SI: As a curve model, what message do you want to share with women who may be struggling to love the skin they're in?
AA: I’ve been curvy my entire life. Even at my smallest, I still had curves. I remember being bullied almost daily through elementary, middle, and high school, for my body. I’m still attacked for it to this very day. I went through a really tough time as a teenager because of this. I developed anxiety and struggled to love myself. But I’ve always been the one to want to prove people wrong, and I wanted to do that in a way that would help others that could relate to my situation. When you truly understand that the beauty that you possess is in your complete control, your mindset changes. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay. Accepting that is the biggest challenge. I like to share with people who struggle to love the skin they’re in that they only have one life and one body and wasting time hating it isn’t fair to them.
SI: Tell us more about your swimwear line and how it is size inclusive?
AA: I created Alexiss Swimwear because I wanted to fill the major size-inclusive gap in the market. I didn’t make it for just small women or curvy women, I made it for ALL women because beauty is not a size! Creating premium swimwear based off of everything I was unhappy with in the industry, and helping women find the confidence they deserve, has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I started this company with what was left of my savings because of how much I believed in it. I have my hands on every single part of the process of this line — the designs, fabrics, styles, customer care, social media, and all the backend stuff. This brand is a direct reflection of me and I just want women to have a quality suit and experience that they can trust to feel fabulous in. We’re even expanding our sizing even further in 2020 to really push that inclusivity line because, lets be honest, bodies don’t stop at a 3X and chests don’t stop at an H cup and I want to practice what I preach.
SI: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video or showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
AA: I have been modeling since I was 16. This road has been long and tedious. I was always told I was too short, standing at just 5’3". I’ve actually been told that I cannot be short and fat and expect to be a model. I took the long road because I had to create my own path. To this day, 10 years since I started professionally modeling, I’ve never had an agency or a manager and I don’t regret it one bit. I have a loyal client list and am doing exactly what I feel like I was meant to do. If you believe in yourself, you can do it, you just have to put in the work and understand the opportunity in the word “no.”
SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami?
AA: The casting experience for #SISwimSearch was unlike anything I’ve seen. You have thousands of women trying out for the same thing. The majority of the time this can lead to bringing out the worst in them and just real “mean girl” vibes. But this casting experience was the total opposite. I actually made friends I feel like I’ve known forever — women who are the best hype team ever and are just proud to see another woman succeed. When the second round came, there was lots of waiting around so there was more time to get to know one another. This basically turned into the therapy session I didn’t know I needed. A bunch of us talked about our insecurities and what has made us who we are today. The stories I heard from many of these women changed my perspective on just really appreciating every second of every day of every opportunity. Seeing women supporting women is empowering because society constantly pits us against one another.
SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
AA: Being part of the SI Swimsuit model search means the world to me, and even that is an understatement. I’m so filled with gratitude to be able to represent every human being who is tired of being put into a box. To have a platform to show that mental health is just as, if not more, important than physical health and that you don’t have to choose just one path. I am a 28-year-old, petite, plus-size model, business owner and have my MBA degree. Society makes it out to be that you have to choose between beauty or brains.
See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: