The cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is fairly standard for the magazine’s annual feature. It shows a striking woman standing in a fierce pose in a glamorous tropical setting. The only difference: This model happens to be 74 years old.
“If I thought I could be a swimsuit model for Sports Illustrated, people would have locked me away as a crazy lady,” Maye Musk, the model in question, says in a video released by the magazine. “And now, here I am.”
Musk is one of four faces to earn a coveted spot on the magazine cover, alongside entrepreneur and influencer Kim Kardashian, singer Ciara, and musician and rising model Yumi Nu.
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While Musk isn’t as well known as Kardashian, she is used to being in the spotlight. Back in 1969, she was a finalist in the Miss South Africa beauty competition, which helped kick-start a modeling career that has spanned over 50 years and includes features in Vogue, a Revlon ad and even a role in a Beyoncé video. Musk is also a registered dietitian and mother of three to daughter Tosca and sons Kimbal and Elon (yes, that Elon Musk).
Between raising kids, working five jobs and earning two master’s degrees, Musk kept modeling. While most models hang up their heels by their mid-20s, Musk became CoverGirl’s oldest spokesmodel at age 69 and now, at 74, the oldest model ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.
The cover star is breaking down age-related barriers — and more than happy to do it. “I’m very excited to let people know that women in their 70s are gorgeous,” Musk says, in a video released by the magazine. “Yes and we’re gorgeous at 50, 60 and 80, too,” says Lois Joy Johnson, AARP’s beauty and style expert and author of three books including The Makeup Wakeup. “Unfortunately, we see too little imaging of mature women outside of promos for Botox, filler and ads for medication. Hopefully, Maye will inspire more brands to expand their outlook.”
SI’s decision to feature Musk seems to indicate a slowly changing attitude toward beauty and age now being reflected in the pages of the magazine, which featured a then-63-year-old Christie Brinkley back in 2017. “No matter your age, whether you’re a new mom, partner, sister, entertainer, athlete, entrepreneur, advocate, student, mentor, role model, leader or dreamer — or all of the above — we want to celebrate these women, their evolution and the many dimensions of who they are,” MJ Day, the issue’s editor in chief, says in the magazine.
It’s a barrier that many people are elated to see breaking down. “This SI cover is highlighting everything that is best about the importance of representation,” says writer, actor and activist Nicky Clark, who spearheaded the Acting Your Age campaign to fight ageism in Hollywood. “Beauty isn’t simply about being young or about mandated perceptions of perfection but exists just as vibrantly in women of all ages, if we care to notice.”
The choice isn’t making waves just among those 50-plus. “My whole life, I’ve seen my mom do everything. As a result I think I’ll always expect her to be able to do everything,” Musk’s daughter, Tosca, writes in an essay to accompany her mother’s photo shoot. “Sometimes I wonder whether it’s time I start limiting those expectations, as she gets older. But then I look at her again, still unstoppable, and I think, Not yet.”
The new issue is out on stands May 19.
Melissa Locker is a contributing writer who covers lifestyle, home and garden, and arts and culture. She has also written for Southern Living, Time and The Guardian.