It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love means to them.
Jasmine Sanders rocked a teeny bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit in 2020 as she became the fourth Black woman to snag the coveted spot. Despite her comfortability in front of the camera for the sexy shoot, however, the 30-year-old tells Yahoo Life that she used to feel her most insecure in a piece of swimwear.
"I would not get out of my jeans and never really felt comfortable being in a bikini next to some of my girlfriends, because I was just the girl with a flat chest," she says of her younger self. "And mind you, that took forever to get past."
Sanders explains that she grew up in the South, where it's "extremely hot," which seemingly made her unwillingness to show off different parts of her body even more apparent.
"I had insecurities like every other girl. I wanted to look cute in my outfits. I wanted to fit in at school. And I was dealing with people bullying me for being too skinny and too athletic," she explains. "My dad used to joke with me all the time and be like, 'Hey, why are you always in jeans? Get out of your jeans. It's a million degrees outside.' And I was scared to show my legs."
The model and influencer was born in Germany to a German mother and Black father before moving to Columbia, S.C. where she struggled to figure out who she was and where she fit in. She says that race also played a role in that process.
"I wanted to be friends with everybody. I'm a social butterfly, but I was dealing with different kids that were kind of bullying me about whether I could have white friends or Black friends or if I had too many," Sanders recalls. "So I was dealing with racial things in the South and also trying to figure out my body and figure out being a teenager."
Despite not having the utmost confidence in herself, Sanders was discovered by a local modeling agency when she was a teenager. By 13, she found herself working to change an industry that abided by exclusive and unrealistic beauty standards in order to maintain her own happiness.
"Being in the industry at a young age, you're dealing with a lot of negativity. I was one of the shorter girls, I wasn't the go-to runway model. But I just tried to make a name for myself and get people to understand that my body's beautiful as well, even if I wasn't the sample size at the time," she explains. "I can work out as much as I can and eat right and do all of those things, but it's not until I really focus on loving myself and loving spending time with myself — spending time with myself in front of the mirror in a different way, saying my affirmations — that I'm going to feel most confident."
While Sanders felt that she was a "tomboy" that didn't fit into the "cookie cutter" image of what she believed a model to be, she found inspiration from women around her who also felt they were outside of the mold but exuded a confidence that Sanders envied. With the moniker "Golden Barbie" and a following of 4.5 million people on Instagram alone, Sanders tries to pass that inspiration on to others. One of the best ways to do so, she says, is by being unfiltered.
"If you're going to see me on a runway in a bikini, you are going to see my cellulite, you're going to see stretch marks because my body does fluctuate like everyone else's. You might see me eating tacos and relaxing by the pool, and I don't want to constantly put out super photoshopped photos," she shares. "I know that in the industry that I've come from a lot of things for a long time have been super photoshopped, but at this point in my life, I just want to embrace everything that God has allowed my body to do and become and I don't want to hide it from anybody."
While Sanders now says with confidence "I absolutely love my body and have learned to embrace every bit of change and every curve," she acknowledges that experiencing that type of security still comes in waves. She also credits turning 30 for her current "no f***s given" state of mind.
Most importantly, she reflects on what she'd tell her younger self about letting go of the insecurities that once held her back. "I would tell her to go for it and actually put a bikini on and go and have fun and not to sit back and miss out on pool parties," Sanders says. "Just live your life, embrace everything that comes your way. And I swear, you'll have a lot more fun."