Lauren Chan "Felt Called to Get Vulnerable" by Coming Out in SI Swim

She is the first queer plus-size model to grace the magazine's pages.

Lauren Chan for SI Swim in the Dominican Republic

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has, in the last several years, become known for doing the unexpected. Though its models remain scantily clad, the message has shifted to one of inclusivity — after all, one of this year's cover stars is 81-year-old lifestyle icon, Martha Stewart.

Another star appearing in the issue for the first time is Lauren Chan. After starting her career as a plus-size model, Chan pivoted to publishing, where she became a fashion editor (full disclosure: We actually used to work together). She went on to start her own fashion label, Henning, for sizes 12 and up and continued to have a successful modeling career.

"My career has definitely taken many forms, and that's the very polite way of saying it's been all over the place," Chan tells Instyle. "But I think that there has actually been one throughline that is very clear, and that is that everything I've done with my work has been with the end goal of making women who have been excluded by fashion feel included and equal and celebrated."

And she has done just that: After announcing her divorce earlier this year, Chan came out as queer in a moving essay for SI Swim, which coincided with her Rookie reveal. The announcement made her the mag's first queer plus-size model to date.

If that wasn't enough, just weeks prior, she also announced that Henning had been acquired by Universal Standard. It may only be May, but Chan could throw in the towel now and still call it a banner year (don't worry; she's not). As she gears up for this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue (on stands May 18), Chan talks to InStyle about what it all means to her, how she feels now that the news is out, and more.

Lauren Chan in NYC

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Instyle: First off, congrats on being an SI rookie! What was the experience like?

Lauren Chan: Surreal, I think, is the best way to describe it. It was so many things. It was motivational, it was emotional, it was celebratory, and it was the start of me being able to really explore this new chapter that I'm in. I'm at a loss for words because it was just such a unique, incredible, 10 out of 10 experience. And so, there were so many things within the experience as a whole: all of the mental prep that I did, seeing the first images on the monitor that day, the wrap dinner with everyone, going home, and writing my essay that I ended up publishing with my rookie reveal. Each moment had a different sentiment, but at every part of the journey, it felt deep and important, which is not typical of a modeling job. I've been doing this for 10 years, and this certainly feels like another realm.

How and when did you decide this was the moment to come out publicly?

Part of coming out to the world with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit was completely out of my hands. The opportunity landed in my inbox after a year of going through a divorce and coming out to myself privately. And then, another part of the decision was very conscious because I certainly could have had this project come to life and not brought up the personal journey that I was going through for the past year. But [I thought about] Sports Illustrated as a place, an institution wherein the talent gets to be celebrated for who they are holistically, and their individual messages get to be shared on such a far-reaching platform with such an engaged audience.

As a reporter, I’ve seen the ability of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit to genuinely change the way we see women in this culture. I am specifically thinking of the Ashley Graham cover in 2016 because I reported on it heavily. I, as someone who is not a sample size, was so affected by seeing somebody who was, at the time, around my size on the cover of this magazine. And I just felt called to be a small part of that. I felt called to get vulnerable and share my story in hopes that my message could do that for someone too.

It has been such a big year for you. Right before SI Swim was revealed, you announced the acquisition of your brand, Henning. What are you doing to celebrate?

More work!

When it rains, it pours?

I feel super lucky that a big part of the celebration that I'm having is, in all seriousness, more work, but more work that I care deeply about doing. I am so motivated right now to make as much of an impact as I can, and I think that the work that I'm getting to do, interviews — this feels like a celebration. In my downtime, I'm trying to relax. Directly after my SI shoot, I went to Mexico for a few days and was able to really kick back and celebrate there. But although I don't have some huge celebration planned, I get to wake up every day and feel really proud and excited that this is my life for the time being, and that is good enough of a celebration for me.

What went into shooting SI Swim that was different from other modeling shoots you’ve done?

All of my prep was mental, to the point that someone asked me recently if I was excited to see the photos, and I genuinely forgot there were going to be photos. Because so much of my prep, aside from a haircut and a spray tan, was mental. I wanted to get really clear on my messaging and what impact I hoped to leave on folks. I wanted to get clear on where the line was for what I would share and wouldn't share. I also wanted to get mentally prepped in terms of confidence. I listened to a lot of content on vulnerability and showing up as yourself, and being in the moment, and that really helped. 

You mentioned Ashley Graham, but are there other models that you've looked up to over the years?

Oh my gosh, yes. Speaking of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers, I am such a Leyna Bloom fan. I'm such a Maye Musk fan. I think that anyone who is able to show up as their whole self. The beauty ideal is a falsehood, and no one in this culture is the beauty ideal. As the public, that resonates with us so deeply and moves us on such a high level. And I think that anyone who is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit fan or an InStyle reader would agree that those models are role models. I think I could name anyone who's been in [Sports Illustrated Swimsuit] in recent years, and my point would still stand. I could list a gazillion names. I don't know how I'm going to function normally at the launch weekend because I'm just going to be in awe of everyone.

 The 2023 issue of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit will be on stands May 18.

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