Nicole Williams English posing for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

On Posing Pregnant For Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue — Swollen Ankles & All

Nicole Williams English discusses going from IVF to her “best era.”

For nearly 60 years, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition has held an iconic place in pop culture with glamorous locations, beautiful models, striking photography. And like many models, Nicole Williams English had always dreamed of being featured in those glossy pages. “It’s been literally one of my goals for as long as I can remember, since I was a teenager. My dream job,” she tells Romper, before pausing. “My dream, not even a job.” So when SI told her she’d be shooting for the 2023 issue as a rookie in Dominica, she was “bawling” her eyes out. “And then they were like, ‘We also want to shoot you pregnant.’”

For many, the proposition would be a record scratch moment. But for Williams English, the idea of complementing her bikini with a seven-months-along bump was “an added bonus.” This isn’t to say the scenario wasn’t without challenges. To start, she was up against a deadline. “My doctor was like, ‘You can't travel past this date,’” she explains. “I literally got home the day before that. I pushed it right to the limit.” During the shoot, the crew kept ice buckets on hand for her swollen feet and ankles in-between takes. And, needless to say, in her off-time, off-roading adventures with some of her fellow models were off the table. (To be fair, lounging on a tropical beach instead sounds like a nice consolation.)

But any challenges, she said, came with extra consideration from the crew. “They were just taking care of me, ‘Drink water, drink water, here’s snacks...’” she recalls. “I think I got pampered a little more than usual because I was so pregnant. It was a complete dream. I wish I could relive it over and over and over.”

Nicole Williams English ft. India Moon for SI in DominicaYu Tsai/ SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

There’s another reason Williams English was so happy to do the shoot while she was expecting.

“Me and my husband [former NFL linebacker Larry English] had been wanting to get pregnant for a couple years,” she explains. “I did IVF and we’ve been really, really ready to have a baby.” She knew, even before she booked SI that she wanted to take as many pictures of her changing body as possible to celebrate this long-awaited moment in her life... she just hadn’t imagined it would come at the same time as another exciting goal. Doing the shoot pregnant was like a double victory lap.

“The fact that SI wanted me to share my story — my IVF journey, and how me and my husband struggled to get here and to be on an island just with my huge belly — it’s special. That’s the word I keep feeling. It makes me feel special. I loved every minute of it, swelling and all.”

Like many moms, Williams English toggles between standing in awe of her body — of the fact that she was able to “grow a human,” her adorable daughter India Moon, born in January — and the insecurities many woman feel, even (and perhaps especially) in her industry.

“Every day I look at myself in the mirror like anybody would after a baby and you size yourself up, you look at yourself at every angle,” she admits. “And I try not to worry about it too much because I look at India and I’m like, ‘You came from me and all these little changes in my body are beautiful because they gave me you.’”

Williams English in 2022.Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

“It’s a tough situation to be in because as a model, it’s all about the way you look or the way your body is,” she adds. “Fortunately, SI is so accepting and they just love me the way I am. The shoot made me feel so beautiful. So beautiful.”

Indeed, in recent years, SI has veered away from portraying just one form of female beauty in its famed issue — the 2023 cover model, for example, is none other than 81-year-old Martha Stewart. But overall, the women beyond the cover have been more diverse, from race to size to visible maternity status. Katrina Scott paved the way for Williams English as the first pregnant model in 2021 (she told Romper at the time that she imagined she would be the first of many). That same year, Hunter McGrady posed six months postpartum and Kelly Hughes bared her C-section scar.

It seems to be a trend on the uptick throughout much of the industry. Williams English says she’s been “shocked” to find just how many other brands want to partner with her as a new mom. The idea that a model has to rush to immediately look as though she’s never had a baby in order to keep her career going is no longer as pervasive as it once was, she muses. “So not only do I love this new mom journey, I love having all these new opportunities,” she marvels. “It’s probably my best era!”

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will be on newsstands and wherever magazines are sold on May 18.