Ashley Callingbull to be first Indigenous woman in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Enoch Cree Nation’s Ashley Callingbull is the first Indigenous woman to pose in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

The annual casting call for models garnered thousands of submissions, Callingbull being one of them, and on International Women’s Day it was announced she was one of the 14 women chosen as a finalist in the 2022 SI Swim Search program.

“I found out probably at 6 am while I was lying in bed, not even a week ago and it’s just been a whirlwind ever since,” she said excitedly from her hotel room in the Dominican Republic.

Calling bull arrived on the Dominican Wednesday and hit the ground running, starting with fittings.

The editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, MJ Day, gave her free reign to pick from the hundreds of swimsuits in the fitting room. She said the experience was like a dream come true.

“[MJ’s] like ‘We’re not going to pick for you, it’s how you want to represent yourself,'” said Callingbull. “I was like, ‘I love that.’ So it took me forever.”

She’s narrowed down her choices to five in preparation for the photo shoot Thursday, where she’s not only the first Indigenous woman to participate, but also the only Canadian in this issue of the magazine.

“It just feels so surreal because it’s something I couldn’t have imagined when I was a little girl,” Callingbull said. “It’s such a dream come true.”

Her social media accounts have been flooded with messages of support from other Indigenous women and girls, and talking about it brings tears to her eyes.

“They’re like, ‘It’s so amazing to see someone that looks like me and to see we’re actually being represented,'” Callingbull said. “That’s why I know it’s so much bigger than me, and it’s so important to have that proper Indigenous representation.”

Growing up Callingbull said she was told she wasn’t beautiful because of her skin colour, her background and her culture.

“Now I own the skin I’m in. I’m proud of who I am, and I encourage other women to be proud of who they are.”

The women posing in Sports Illustrated Swim aren’t just pretty faces, said Callingbull, they’re accomplished women. The models include an astronaut, lawyer, and ICU nurse, just to name a few.

“You wouldn’t think that when you think of a Sports Illustrated model, you’d initially just stereotype them, but we are more than a face, we are women with a voice and with a mission,” she said.

Callingbull says people will ask her how she broke into the modeling industry and she proudly says locally at Edmonton Fashion Week. She says it’s the place she started to step out of her comfort zone.

“I’ve worked my way up to get to this point where I’m like, ‘Why can’t I do it? I’m going to submit myself.'”

Though she’s the first Indigenous woman to pose for the SI Swimsuit issue, Callingbull says it’s important to her that she won’t be the last.

“When I walk in these spaces, I’ve got to make sure that other women feel confident and comfortable to walk in these spaces after me so they can shine as well.”

She told CTV News Edmonton that being the first can be a burden, but it’s a weight she’s willing to carry if it makes things easier for the next woman.

“I learned that from my mom and from my grandmother, paving the way you never know whose life you could change.”

Callingbull says the support from Sports Illustrated has also been incredible, and she hopes this experience will create more opportunities for her to use her platform to help amplify the voices of other women.

“For me it’s all about the legacy I’m going to leave behind and I’m excited that Sports Illustrated is a part of it.”

The 14 Swim Search finalists are competing to be a “rookie” for the 2023 SI Swimsuit issue, Callingbull hopes she’ll have lots of Canadian support behind her.

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