“It’s About Damn Time”: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition Features First Native Model, Ashley Callingbull

Ashley Callingbull, 32, was the first on several occasions: the first child from her First Nations territory in Alberta, Canada, to become a professional model; the first Canadian and Indigenous women to win the Ms. Universe title in 2015; and now, as of last week, the first Indigenous woman slated to appear in an issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

“It’s great to be first for a lot of things, but it’s so important that I’m not last,” Callingbull told Native News Online on Zoom from her home in British Columbia. “Breaking down those barriers and having to break glass ceilings is great and all, but pushing that glass back is so important so that other Indigenous people can comfortably and confidently enter those spaces.”

You wouldn’t guess it, but the model, actress and activist once had coke bottle glasses – ‘the geeky science fair girl’ – known for her ‘strange voices’ and impressions, like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, she says. She began her career doing voice-overs for cartoons at the age of 12, before feeling comfortable enough to stand in front of a camera.

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The backbone of Callingbull’s life’s work has been volunteer work and motivational speaking. When Callingbull was just 14, she lost her younger sister, which motivated her to volunteer for the local Children’s Hospital and various other charities that helped underprivileged young people through similar circumstances. to those his family had gone through.

As a descendant of residential school survivors, Callingbull said her grandparents, healers and healers, taught her that helping others heal would also heal her and that no one could take her culture away from her. She used her culture as a launching pad.

Callingbull has signed a book deal with HarperCollins to write a memoir about her journey in the coming year.

“My story, the beginning of it, is a very common story in Indian country,” Callingbull said. “Something that a lot of Indigenous people deal with is intergenerational trauma, and I’m sharing how I overcame that and how I’m still on my healing journey, and what were my steps to becoming the person I am. For I have decided that the cycle (of intergenerational trauma) ends here with me.

At age 20, the actress began modeling in local pageants to amplify Indigenous voices and give back to her community. The pageantry work led Callingbull to more and more opportunities, eventually bringing her to The Amazing Race Canada to compete alongside her stepfather in 2016, and an ambassador gig for the Nike N7 Fund created. to improve access between Aboriginal youth and physical activity programs. This year, she is also designing her own jewelry collection, with a portion of her sales going to programs for Indigenous women, she said.

But this month, on International Women’s Day, Callingbull got the biggest gig of her career when her phone rang at 6 a.m. and a Sports Illustrated casting agent asked her if she could fly to the Dominican Republic the following week. Of the thousands of entries for this summer’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, Callingbull was selected as a finalist out of 13 women. Each woman will appear in the summer issue and compete to be named “Rookie of the Year” for a chance to grace the cover of the 2023 swimsuit edition.

Other role models include women who identify as astronauts, criminal justice lawyers, intensive care nurses, breast cancer survivors, professional athletes, and more. “This group of women is emblematic of the values ​​of SI Swimsuit and all of the finalists inspire action in their communities,” the magazine wrote in its announcement.

“These women are all so remarkable on their own, and they all represent something,” Callingbull said. “So to be in this space with them is remarkable. They recognize that I’m not just a face, that’s what I can do with this vision that I have.

Because of this, she says, she doesn’t take any criticism she might hear too seriously. “When you see me in my bathing suit, I show that I own the skin I’m in and that I’m confident and comfortable,” she said. “If you have a problem with that, that’s on you.”

Over the past week, Callingbull said she has been inundated with messages from Indigenous women around the world saying that seeing someone who looks like them in such an acclaimed modeling space confirms that Indigenous people are seen and have the value.

“I hope they see how their faces reflected in mine,” Callingbull said. “That’s why representation is really important, and for an organization to embrace diversity, it’s time.”

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About the Author

Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeE-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Personal editor

Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. His bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 American journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Arctic region of Alaska. Previously, she was a senior reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.

About the author