The 2018 'Sports Illustrated' Swimsuit Issue has released unedited photos for the first time

"A woman doesn't have to be modest to be respected," read the text on a wet tank top clinging to the chest of a model from last year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. The annual issue of the magazine famously features pictures of beautiful bikini-clad women in exotic locales, and the 2018 edition just dropped yesterday. Even in the #MeToo era, it seems the magazine is able to present the sexy swimwear shots while promoting messages of positivity.

"These are sexy photos,” editor MJ Day told Vanity Fair. “At the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening. We’re Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. The ideal is to create something artful, to create a beautiful image that both the subject and the team is proud of and collaborates on together."

Kate Wasley sports illustrated swimsuit issue 2018 Credit: Sports Illustrated

And this year, Day and her all-female production team have done just that, continuing to focus on creating sexy images while simultaneously empowering the women taking part in the shoot. The 2018 Swimsuit Issue showcases the most diversity the magazine has ever seen by including 36 models from all backgrounds, colours, ages, and sizes.

"It’s about allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves,” Day said. "That’s an underlying thread that exists throughout the Swimsuit Issue. You have Harvard graduates, you have billion-dollar moguls, you have philanthropists, you have teachers, you have mothers—you have a full range of women represented in the alumnus of this magazine, and not one of them failed because they wore a bikini."

 sports illustrated swimsuit issue 2018 cover Danielle Herrington Credit: Sports Illustrated

Danielle Herrington landed the honorary spot on the cover and is the third black model to do so after Tyra Banks and Beyoncé. The rest of the issue was dedicated to spreads of the other 35 women – including social media star Alexis Ren, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and SI veteran Paulina Porizkova – lounging in the Bahamas/Carribean/all the other places I want to be right now, as well as in an additional photo shoot titled In Her Own Words.

aly raisman sports illustrated swimsuit issue 2018 Credit: Sports Illustrated

The nude, black and white photoshoot encouraged the models to be participants by asking them to tell their story and choose words of empowerment to wear on their bodies. The photos were all left unedited – a first for Sports Illustrated.

One of the plus-sized models of the 2018 Swimsuit line-up, Hunter McGrady, told Bustle it was almost like a "personal memoir".

"We each had the ability and the range to do what we wanted with the placement of the words on our bodies," McGrady said. "[This year] meant so much more to me, because it was very personal this time around. It wasn't just beautiful photos going into a magazine. It was a very personal memoir almost."

Hunter McGrady sports illustrated swimsuit issue 2018 Credit: Sports Illustrated

Day says she left the shoot so the models didn't feel the pressure to look to her for creative direction. "No one ever gives models a real opportunity to be who they are," she said. "You’re always an actor, you’re always a part of the photograph, you’re always performing for something: for the brand, the photographer, the spirit of the photograph, and you’re never really your most authentic self."

The 2018 Issue certainly seems to be moving things forward, and we're all here for it.