The models run the gamut when it comes to who is represented in the magazine as it has expanded to include women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds. In fact, at 74 years old, Musk is the oldest person to be featured in the magazine's history, while Nu is the first curve model of Asian descent to be featured on the cover. For all four of the women, the cover spot represents a pivotal moment in each of their careers — even for Kardashian who is "arguably the most famous, most heavily dissected, most photographed, most covered woman on Earth," according to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor-in-chief MJ Day.
"I vividly remember Tyra Banks on the cover and women with curves. I remember just thinking that was so cool, that was so cool. But I still didn't think that I would have … I thought that you had to be a professional model and a runway model," Kardashian told Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. "And it’s always really young girls. I don’t want to date myself or sound old, but like in my 40s? That's crazy. I never thought in a million years that I would be shooting one myself."
Ciara shared a similar sentiment.
"I've always dreamt of being on this cover, ever since I was really young and especially as an entertainer, it's always been pretty significant in the entertainment space," the "Level Up" singer said. "So it's a dream come true for me, and it was a special day when I got the call."
While later in her modeling career, Musk also expressed gratitude over this milestone.
"If I thought I could be a swimsuit model for Sports Illustrated, people would've locked me away as a crazy lady. And now here I am," she said while on set with the publication. "I'm very excited to let people know that women in their 70s are gorgeous."
At just 25 years old, Nu's inclusion on the cover provides unprecedented representation for young Japanese-American women struggling with their identity and body image. "I feel like I'm being the person that I needed when I was growing up," she tells Yahoo Life. "And I think that alone is a very fulfilling feeling."
The point of including such a variety of women on the four covers, Day explains, is to shatter all limitations that are placed on women throughout the many phases of their lives and to see them as multidimensional.
"It's about being more than just the image, it's about the person as a whole. Our brand is more than just a printed product. It is an essence, it is a mission. It is a voice, it has many voices, it has many voices united, it has many voices supporting one another, it is many voices coming together to uplift each other's personal hopes and dreams and goals and platforms," she tells Yahoo Life. "I'm looking to the future for the brand, I'm looking in the future for the individuals that we talk about and that we platform here and that we have conversations around. I'm looking for how those conversations can affect the person on the street, that is going to our website or picking up the print product, or just hearing about what we're doing. And makes them pause and makes them reevaluate perhaps how they look at someone else or themselves."
Day calls it a "360-degree approach to empowering women," and revels in the fact that the 2022 issue is the first to launch with the Pay With Change initiative. The publication's new advertising mandate makes it so brands can only advertise within its pages if operating under the mission to drive gender equality. Through this initiative, SI Swim has been able to partner with brands like Frida Mom for new opportunities to represent the beauty of motherhood in different ways.
"This amazing initiative just really rounds out the brand, where we are delivering on our mission in every single facet and capacity that we can. There's nowhere where we're not doing the work anymore. And I am just so proud of that," Day says. "I don't know how many brands, especially of the magnitude that we exist, are able to really authentically say that, and it's awesome."
For Day, it also represents a shift in the brand's reputation that she has been working to cement for nearly a decade, explaining that the content that was once "aspirational" can now be seen as more reflective of women at all phases in their lives. With the inclusion of Musk, in particular, Day hopes that the issue will "liberate so many women about how they see their future."
And while she recognizes the many ways in which she continues to push the boundaries by highlighting plus-size women, older women, trans women, athletic women, ambitious women and mothers through her work, Day hopes that society will let her do so.
"We are all unique individuals. Let us get there, let us evolve, let us learn, let us be better, let us be more," she says. "Just let us."
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.