Why, we wondered, do some models covet a spot in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? After all, it’s kind of laddish, not exactly a high-fashion affair or a lucrative cosmetics gig. But apparently the opportunity to appear in skin and Lycra for some 4.5 million readers is not the main appeal. “They tell you you better not go on a diet before the shoot," said Bar Refaeli at the 2008 issue launch at 7 World Trade Center on Tuesday. “Girls tend to think, Oh my God, I have to be in swimwear, I have to look amazing. They just say, ‘You better not, girl!’ And they just let you eat all the time during the photo shoot. They love that; they love their girls healthy.” Could this be true? Is the world really so totally unfair? We went to model Julie Henderson for confirmation. “Oh yeah," she concurred. "They were like, ‘You’re too skinny. Start eating cheeseburgers.’ That’s when I was like, This magazine’s for me.” Henderson, who hails from Texas, explained the magazine’s rationale simply: “They’re like, the bigger the boobs, the bigger the butt, the better.” Refaeli chimed in, laughing, “Why do you think I’m here? Why do you think I’m working for them?”
SI Group president Mark Ford put the company’s philosophy in a more, um, socially enlightened context. “We care about young women. I have two daughters, and, you know, beauty comes in a lot of forms, and you don’t have to be waiflike to be a beautiful woman. And certainly, we support that,” Ford told us. Ford also talked about the decision to again place a model on the issue’s cover after using Beyoncé last year. “We always want what’s best for our franchise, and what we think will sell,” he said.
So who's best for the franchise this year? Swimsuit-issue regular Marisa Miller. "I was completely shocked," she said. “I’m not really a big crier, but I turned into a big baby.” It was a bit emotional for the model, who had yet to land her first SI cover. "My agent said I had a meeting with this client I work with; we walk into the conference room, they open the doors, there’s a camera crew, the editor of Sports Illustrated, a big poster of the cover, Champagne, flowers. It was like, What? And I cried. And coughed!” And then, we presume, she ate a cheeseburger. —Bennett Marcus