Jasmine Sanders on Her Sports Illustrated Cover, Diversity in the Industry, and Her Newfound Confidence
Jasmine Sanders loves her Sports Illustrated fam, so much so that she's visiting fellow cover star Olivia Culpo the evening the new 2020 SI Swimsuit issue is revealed to celebrate. That is, after a full day of press rounds and a brief stop-off to shoot an at-home campaign for Fendi in between. NBD. "To get that shot you have to go during a certain hour and you have to be in that mode. I'm like, 'Well, I got hair and makeup done because I'm in press mode for today, so I might as well just get it done.' You just have to be motivated and ready," Jasmine told me when I talked to her merely two hours after her cover was revealed to the world. "I was completely shocked because I did not know that all the images were coming out today!" she exclaimed, confirming that nabbing the SI cover really is quite the surprise.
"To be able to work with people breaking down walls for us in this industry, opening up the covers for different people of different races and backgrounds, I see that the entire industry has to start doing it."
Jasmine's positive attitude, drive, and ability to hustle or pivot comes through when you talk to her. She's worked hard for her modeling career, starting at 13, she was named SI's Rookie of the Year in 2019. Now, one year later, she's scored the cover at 29. "Sports Illustrated gave me a different confidence that I didn't have before I started working with them. They make you finally feel OK with being you — you finally feel accepted. That alone makes you shift into a different power drive. It has done nothing but open doors, giving me a voice to speak up about things and more access to give back and help communities that I would have wanted to help previously but didn't have the opportunity to," Jasmine said.
As the fourth Black woman to cover the annual issue since its launch in 1964 (following Tyra Banks in 1996, 1997, and then again in 2019, Beyoncé in 2007, and Danielle Herrington in 2018), Jasmine acknowledged the fashion industry's shifting direction toward diversity: "It's just moving at such a slow pace. To be able to work with people breaking down walls for us in this industry, opening up the covers for different people of different races and backgrounds, I see that the entire industry has to start doing it. If you haven't started doing it, you're late." Jasmine hopes that by next year, there are 15 diverse covers for the industry to be proud of, and she's not the only one.
Ahead, get the full scoop on Jasmine's experience shooting with Sports Illustrated, read up on the advice she was given on set about modeling a swimsuit, and find out what she'd tell her childhood self, who couldn't possibly have predicted this incredible opportunity and success. "When it happens for you, it's supposed to happen for you," she said.
POPSUGAR: Where were you when you found out you were on the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue?
Jasmine Sanders: I was at my house in LA and I was home with my best friend Phillip and one of my agents. We were playing this fun whisper game — which I'm really good at — and somehow at the end of the game, I look over and see the announcement. It freaked me out. I had no idea. Once I found out the ladies [Kate Bock and Olivia Culpo] knew as well, we all got on FaceTime together and got very excited about it.
PS: You were Sports Illustrated's Rookie of the Year in 2019. How have these back-to-back milestones impacted your career?
JS: Sports Illustrated has allowed me to shift into a whole new power drive. I can walk into rooms that I may have never walked into before and just feel like I can own it. It's been full circle amazing. It's a whole family — I never went to college, so it's like having a whole sorority group that came out of nowhere for me.
"We need to make a change and show everyone that they're worthy of being on a cover. They're worthy of getting paid the full amount. They're worthy of not working overtime to prove that they're worth it.
PS: When it comes to diverse representation, where do you hope the fashion industry will be a year from now?
JS: I can't personally stand next to anyone and not have this conversation anymore. I have had so many uncomfortable conversations lately. The main thing is to focus on trying to see what makes people uncomfortable — whether it has been on set or whatever the case is — and just finding ways to fix those problems. There have been situations I've dealt with, situations my friends have dealt with who are fellow models or actresses in the industry, and it's sad to hear that the same story goes around so much.
I just hope that the industry starts to really open their ears on it. I hope that they stop pointing fingers and getting upset at anyone who speaks out — from fellow models to the hairstylists who don't get paid enough. People need to be listened to and we need to make a change and show everyone that they're worthy of being on a cover. They're worthy of getting paid the full amount. They're worthy of not working overtime to prove that they're worth it. SI does an amazing part in this and really does try to showcase everyone, and that's part of my reason for working with them. They have made me feel comfortable and proud to be a reader. I've watched them grow over the years and I've seen the transformation.
"I was like, 'Oh my god, I get to finally shoot a shot that's going to remind me of my reasons for wanting to get into modeling.'"
PS: Do you have a favorite swimsuit you've shot in for Sports Illustrated through the years?
JS: One of my favorites, which I didn't think would be one of my favorites, is the white high-waist bikini I wear on my cover. I don't normally do a high-waist, but it's so retro and I love the entire vibe of it. Another one I'm obsessed with from last year was this metallic-y purple bikini that very much reminded me of old shots from SI swim. I remember [SI Swimsuit editor-in-chief] MJ looking at me saying, "Girl, if you can squeeze into this one, it's gonna be everything." I remember squeezing into it and being so excited that I even got into it. I was like, "Oh my God, I get to finally shoot a shot that's going to remind me of my reasons for wanting to get into modeling." I feel like MJ really made sure that she brought that old feel back into this shoot, like the chains on the cover. I love that the girls are in white for their independent covers and in black and gold for the group shot.
PS: What's a little-known fact or tidbit about modeling swimwear you think people would be surprised to find out?
JS: MJ once said to me — and I thought it was the craziest thing but she was so right — is the smaller the bikini the better your body looks. No matter your body type, stop hiding your body, just own it. In all honestly, that's how I feel about any piece of clothing. If you're not confident in what you wear, someone is going to nit-pick something. MJ starts us in the smallest bikini out of all of them. I'm just like, "Oh my god. Are you kidding me? This is what I'm wearing?" She's like, "Trust me." And you trust her!
I also think it's important to always talk to the photographer. Say, "Feel free to yell something to me. If you want me to do something and if I'm comfortable doing it, I'll do it." Just yell over, "Hey, do this real quick or try this out." Your photographer can feed back and forth with you. Whoever is in front of the camera is going to do what they need to do more of because they have someone kicking them in their butt in a positive way.