Sports Illustrated has just cast its first plus-size Polynesian swimsuit model

Sports Illustrated has just cast its first plus-size Polynesian swimsuit model

When Veronica Pome'e auditioned for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit model search last year, she was well aware that the publication had never cast a Polynesian woman in its coveted annual edition, and was determined to be the first.

Pome'e, who hails from the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, attended the casting call in Miami, where thousands of hopefuls turned up to score one of 16 open slots to progress to the next round. She was also quick to point out that the magazine shoots in tropical locales all over the world, but rarely feature models from the places themselves.

"I remember my interview telling [Sports Illustrated senior editor Darcy Braun]: You guys travel to all these beautiful, exotic, tropical locations” to photograph swimsuit models, Pomeʻe said. "What better way [to honour that] than to feature someone who’s actually from there?" she told the Huffington Post.

Pome'e went onto make the final cut of six models who would be featured in the publication, fulfilling her lifelong dream.

"I’m still processing what that actually means," the model continued. "When people in Tonga found out I made the top six, everyone in the village was going crazy. I’m now representing the entire South Pacific and even our extended families"

The model is using her newfound influence to raise awareness of the issues facing communities in the Pacific island. And one of her initiatives is developing a "self-love curriculum" to boost the confidence and self-esteem of students in a school in Tonga.

She's also known for championing body positivity, while being vocal about the fact that while great strides have been made, plus-size models are still held to a certain, oft unattainable, standards. "When people think plus-size models, they think a girl who is voluptuous and very proportionate and busty with a big ass. They think Ashley Graham,” Pome'e asserted.

"And the reality is that the majority of plus-size women in America are just not built that way."