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Nicola Griffin: Our Size-16 Hero

All it takes to change the national conversation on body image is one gray-haired, plus-size swimsuit model

spinner image Sexy is Being 56, Size 16 and Rocking A Bikini, Nicola Griffin
For Nicola Griffin, sexy is being 56, size 16 and rocking a bikini.
Courtesy of Swimsuitsforall

Nicola Griffin is a silver-haired single mother of 21-year-old twin daughters.

Nicola Griffin is 56 years old and wears size 16 clothes.

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Nicola Griffin is my new heroine.


Because Griffin is also a swimsuit model, heating up Sports Illustrated's 2016 swimsuit issue in a gold bikini for the #SwimSexy ad campaign by New Jersey-based Swimsuits for All. As the magazine hits newsstands and mailboxes, I asked Griffin to share her thoughts about age, attitude and self-image. She didn't hold back.

Q: Fortune obviously favored you with good genes, great bone structure and that statuesque 5-foot-10 frame, but let's face it: You're a 56-year-old, size-16 bikini model at a time when many age 50+ women quail at wearing a sleeveless dress. What gave you the guts to do this?

A: I honestly can't say! I'd never even modeled until three years ago, so while this new career is a fantastic — and unexpected — gift, it hasn't changed my attitude about my looks one bit. I've got a round tummy from giving birth to 7-pound twins. I've got cesarean scars, cellulite and a big bosom, and I'm certainly not a size zero. But who better to challenge the perfectionism that makes mature women feel flawed and invisible as they age?

Q: So I could rock a bikini?

A: Why not? You needn't be 18 and skinny to wear one. There's no need to spend three months — or any time at all, really — preparing to wear one. I want women of all shapes and sizes to accept their bodies as they are. We have to stop letting fear control what we wear and how we look.

Q: Where does your brand of progressive thinking come from?

A: When I was a kid, my mother never discussed weight or diet — we just ate what was put on the table. Nowadays, I'm very happy with my weight. I've never had a scale in the house.

Q: Has your outlook influenced your daughters?

A: I like to think they follow my example. And in fact, there's no discussion about weight when we get together. We all eat healthy, feel great about our looks and are busy getting on with life. I do walk a lot and stay active, and I post a lot on Instagram to encourage other women along those lines.

Q: I'm not sure I've ever met a model who doesn't diet. What do you eat on a typical day?

A: I have a big breakfast: porridge with nuts, a sliced banana, prunes and a drizzle of honey on top. It fills me up and gives me energy. For lunch, it's often avocado on toast with chili peppers. Dinner is fish or meat with veggies and potatoes. Maybe some yogurt later on for a snack.

Q: Do you ever wear Spanx?

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A: Oh, I have a whole arsenal of shapewear. They give clothes a smooth line and seem to hold everything together. The other essential is a truly high-quality bra — something that lifts and supports, not one of those flimsy little things.

Q: You posed for a lingerie ad. Would you do it again?

A: That ad was for a 50 Shades of Grey Valentine's Day promotion, and it was a lot of fun, so I probably would. The right underwear can make a huge difference in how your clothes fit and look.

Q: Your long gray hair — such a fabulous statement!

A: I'm naturally brunette, and I had been dyeing my hair that color as the gray came in, but it looked horrible. One day I decided, enough — I'm growing it out!

After two years of a truly dreadful transition — half white, half black — I got to my authentic color, which is a platinum white. And you know what? That decision launched my modeling career. I was in line at the bank about three years ago when someone approached me about doing an ad for White Hot Hair, a product line in England for gray and white locks.

Q: Many older women use self-tanner to camouflage veins and acquire an outdoorsy glow. Did they douse you with the stuff, or is that a real tan?

A: No, I have very fair skin, so they used a salon spray tan to give me a sunny, bronzy look. We were on a beach in the Caribbean, after all! Because of the metallic gold bikini, I look a lot tanner on film than I did in person, but they didn't retouch anything for the ad.

Q: While younger models get makeup and fashion ads, older models are often stuck with spots for sexual dysfunction, depression or IBS. Is that about to change?

A: Who knows? It does feel like this swimsuit ad in Sports Illustrated is the beginning of a movement, though. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and very few of us have bodies that can be considered perfect. The ad has fostered a wave of self-acceptance about age and body image among women who relate to it.

But I think it goes beyond that. I think we're seeing size and age diversity emerging in every area of beauty and fashion now. I hope I'm inspiring other women — not just my peers, but younger ones, too — to believe there are no age limits.

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