Olivia Culpo is officially a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model! The 25-year-old influencer, model and TV personality will star alongside Hunter McGrady and Ebonee Davis in the 2018 SI Swim issue, and it was definitely a pinch-me moment for the star.
“I’m so thrilled that this is happening. I’ve had my eye on Sports Illustrated for my entire career, and it’s always been a dream of mine so to see anything you dream about and kind of visualize and have it come into reality is always awesome,” she told PEOPLE of the honor.
Culpo added that she’s really proud to be part of a brand that champions an empowering message of body inclusivity and diversity.
“I think everyday we’re learning more and more about redefining the meaning of beauty and so many different shapes and sizes and backgrounds are featured in the issue,” she shared. “There is no one definition of beauty. And I think if there is one brand that does a great job of spreading that message it’s Sport Illustrated. They’re just inspiring and empowering so many different women and a whole community of girls.”
While her New England Patriot boyfriend Danny Amendola (who is a Ford model and also might be heading to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row) is no stranger to the pages of Sports Illustrated, Culpo called her mom first the minute she learned she would be in this year’s issue.
“She was so excited,” Culpo said. “I think more than anything she was happy to see that I set out for something and I had a goal that she knew was important to me and that I was able to achieve it; I think she was proud of that.”
While Culpo can’t tell us too much about the shoot just yet, she did say it was a very empowering experience.
“I had a female photographer and female crew,” she revealed. “Sailor Brinkley Cook was filming a behind-the-scenes photo at the same time. We had so much fun and this is a very special type of shoot that they haven’t done before.”
To make sure she was prepared for her debut, Culpo enlisted the help of SI Swim vet Hannah Ferguson, and held her own impromptu shoot.
“I asked Hannah what I should do. She said, ‘practice in the mirror, practice all of your poses, have 10 poses ready, know your angles,’ and I did exactly that and it helped. I actually did a test shoot on my iPhone with someone that I work with. We looked insane. We were on the beach with the iPhone doing a test shoot. People were just staring at us.”
In the end, it’s an honor for Culpo to now be a part of the pantheon of famous SI Swim faces.
“So many women that I’m inspired by started their careers or had Sports Illustrated in the careers as a major milestone,” she shared.” Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Chrissy Teigen, Kathy Ireland, Christie Brinkley — so many women that are so much more than just a beautiful face. They represent what it means to be so well rounded so that’s really what drew me to the magazine since I was a little girl.”