Alexa Ray Joel is insanely talented. She’s a singer, songwriter and pianist, and—as anyone who has read the news this week is fully aware—she recently put on a bathing suit and posed side by side with her mom, supermodel Christie Brinkley, and sister Sailor Brinkley Cook for the upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. The trio looks amazing, but it’s what they’re saying regarding body image that has everyone talking. Joel recently shared with us why she feels so strongly about promoting the message, what it’s like to shoot with her “Mamacita” and being a model newbie on set.
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My first thoughts when Sports Illustrated approached us: “I have to be honest, my initial thought was, ‘Why would they want me?!? I’m not a model!’ I’m a bit of an introvert, to say the least, so I’m not one to jump headfirst into situations I’m unfamiliar with. But once I heard it was going to be a family affair and that I’d be posing with my mom and sis (aka Mamacita and Sailorina) in our home away from home, ‘Lucky House’ in Turks & Caicos, I just couldn’t say no. Another part of what made me want to do this—again, speaking as a non-model—is the fact that Sports Illustrated is one of the VERY few magazines that showcases women of all shapes and sizes, who don’t just fit in with one singular ‘model standard’ of beauty, which is such a rarity these days. So I think it’s important for all the young women out there to see that. And hey, I’m a mere 5’3″…so, if I can be featured as a model in Sports Illustrated, anyone can!”
How I prepped for the shoot: “Truth be told, I’m not that into working out! I’m more of a ‘move if it moves me’ kind of gal, but I wanted to put my best self forward for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For me, personally, that doesn’t equate to having perfectly toned abs or losing a ton of weight. I prefer to eat well, and therefore be healthy, confident and happy. That said, I can’t lie: Knowing I was going to be in those itsy-bitsy bikinis did have me paying closer attention to what I was putting into my body. But overall, it was more about making sure I was really feeling my best for the shoot. I drank endless amounts of coconut water, organic fruit and yogurt smoothies before and during the shoots, which are chock-full of energizing vitamin C, electrolytes, antioxidants, and probiotics.”
What I gave up a month before: “I usually eat pasta about every other day—you could say I’m a “pastaholic!—but as scrumptious as it is, it does bloat and decrease energy levels, so I refrained from eating it for a month before the shoot, as well as while we were shooting. I missed it like crazy, but I did have 10 times the amount of energy I usually have, and I didn’t have my—errr—slight ‘spaghetti tummy.’ I was also regularly eating two eggs on whole-wheat toast for breakfast every day. I think it’s essential to have enough protein in your diet, particularly when you’re working long hours (we were shooting for at least five to six hours per day). It keeps your mind sharp and your body strong!”
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My on-set must: “I was also making a conscious effort to stay hydrated, by chugging tons of water while on set. It’s important for your overall health, stamina and digestion to drink a ton of water every day. I always say: If you’re drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, you really can’t go wrong! ”
How my mom encouraged me: “Mom is like my little pocket of sunshine. I always say she’s the ‘sun to my moon.’ Since it was my first time posing in a bathing suit, and this is something I NEVER imagined I’d ever be doing, Mom was so unconditionally loving and encouraging about it all. She’s always calling me her ‘little muse,’ and her ‘delicate flower.’ She’s always looking out for me.
We were picking out swimwear together in the fittings before the shoot, and she was showing me how to pose to angle my body in a way that accentuates the curves. For instance, she taught me that if you angle your body sideways and jut one leg out, it instantly emphasizes an hourglass figure. Watching her on set is positively surreal, just because of her tireless vivaciousness and ‘joie de vivre;’ she never stops moving, and she literally sparkles into the camera. She’s always thinking ahead and doing another pose, just when you think she’s given every possible type of ‘look’ she could give. She’s also encouraged me to smile more in photos. I’ve never loved photos of myself smiling, but Mom has helped me learn to love my smile, little by little, over the years.”
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What really surprised me during the shoot: “I was really taken aback by my little sister, Sailor Lee. She’s only 18, yet she was so professional, positive, outgoing, and at ease on set. She’s definitely a natural model; like Mom, she was working a new pose by the minute and turning and angling her body to create a variety of different shapes and feels. Meanwhile, as a ‘modeling newbie,’ I was merely trying to focus on convincingly holding one pose for a few minutes at a time!”
On celebrating our different personalities: “I was also pleasantly surprised by how supportive and generous the Sports Illustrated team was—in terms of letting my sister and I have our own individual looks and identities, separate from my Mother. We’re all so intensely different and distinct from one another, yet we all have very strong personalities and I think that really came through in the photos and videos. Mom’s like the classic, timeless, golden, all-American bombshell. Sailor’s the young, spunky, sassy, bold, perfect little sporty model. And my style sensibility is more ‘La Dolce Vita’-meets-a mermaid-meets-vintage-bohemian. (Or at least, that’s what I’m going for—one can try, right?) We each have something distinctly unique to bring to the table and, as a family, that’s something we’re all for celebrating.”
Why the body-positive message is so important to me: “I have so many remarkable young women who follow my social media. These women often write to me with stories of their own personal struggles with regards to their body image, or just general battles with finding self-esteem and self-love. I can relate to this on a deeply intimate and personal level, as I was bullied quite a bit by the media when I was younger. You could say I was an exceedingly late bloomer; I didn’t really grow into myself—or feel remotely good about myself—until my late 20s.
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When I was just 19, and starting my career as a singer-songwriter, an extremely popular tabloid-website put up a photo of me, and drew arrows on my face and body, pointing out all the ‘flaws,’ then captioned it with: ‘She’s No Supermodel!’ This website continued to mock me fairly regularly, with photo-shopped photos designed to make me look worse, drawing things on my face, etc. I would read the blogs under my picture and it was just endless threads of people commenting that I was ugly. It really affected me at the time. I allowed it to corrode my conscience obsessively, and chip away at every inch of my self-worth. I was with my very first boyfriend, and I refused to leave his house after that, for about a year. I just felt like society was so ruthless and desensitized, and I was an easy target to pick at—so, why would I want to have any part of it?
Still, this issue is so much bigger than just me, and I think it’s important to look at how we’re treating ALL of our girls in today’s society, and see what we can do to build up both ourselves and others, instead of degrading, judging and comparing. Because I want every single woman out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in, or doesn’t fit the mold, or doesn’t see herself as special, or beautiful, or of value, to know that she is more than worthy. And she is more than enough. Just by being herself.”