Homemaking and culinary icon Martha Stewart has appeared on countless magazine covers, but none quite like this: The 81-year-old is the newest headliner for the famous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

SI announced Monday morning that Stewart is the oldest woman to grace the front of its annual publication, which is available this week. Joining Stewart as cover models this year are actor Megan Fox, musician Kim Petras, and SI Swimsuit regular Brooks Nader.

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The Swimsuit Issue has played a pivotal role in the careers of models like Christie Brinkley, Tyra Banks, Kathy Ireland, and many others. But you might be surprised to learn that Stewart was modeling long before any of them became famous—and even before the Swimsuit Issue first published in 1964.

Here’s a look at how posing for the camera helped Martha Stewart through college and put her on the path to becoming a media mogul.

Martha Stewart the Model

martha stewart smiling while holding a book
Martha Stewart walks the campus of Barnard College, where she earned a degree in architectural history in 1963. She used the money she earned from modeling to help pay for her education.

Stewart—born Martha Kostyra on August 3, 1941—began modeling in New York City when she was 13. In a 2020 interview, she told People she received encouragement from the parents of a neighbor, who told her that she was “so pretty.”

According to a 2009 article by Vanity Fair, Stewart worked as an in-store model for Bonwit Teller department store, and also landed television commercials for Clairol, Lifebuoy soap, and Tareyton cigarettes.

Stewart used her modeling gigs to help pay for her education at Barnard College in New York City, which she attended on a “very partial scholarship” in lieu of a full ride at New York University. As a freshman, she also worked full-time as a maid and cook for two widowed sisters living in a 12-room apartment on Fifth Avenue.

According to L’Officiel magazine, Stewart said in an interview for the PBS Makers series that she sometimes earned $50 an hour modeling, which was “a lot of money at that time.” One summer, she even worked for Chanel while the French fashion brand continued to surge in popularity after World War II. Stewart has said she kept many of the garments she received while working there.

Stewart knew she had the perfect body type for modeling and said she was often depicted as an all-American girl. However, she struggled to overcome thoughts that she wasn’t sexy or provocative enough. “I didn’t know how to lure the photographers into my bed,” she told People. “Everybody was sleeping with everybody at the time, and I never did any of that.”

In 1961, Glamour magazine named Stewart one of the “Ten Best-Dressed College Girls,” earning her national exposure at age 20. However, she married Yale Law student Andy Stewart later that year and quit modeling—at least from a financial perspective. She graduated from Barnard in 1963 with a degree in architectural history and began working as a stockbroker on Wall Street, but her sense of fashion in client meetings helped make her a rising star in the financial world.

While she told Vogue in 2021 that her job as a stockbroker taught her what it takes to build a successful business and company, it was her modeling hustle that helped establish the work ethic that made her into a star.

Stewart Scoffs at Age

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Martha Stewart attends a grand opening event in New York City in September 2022.
Getty Images

Stewart’s shoot for SI took place in the Dominican Republic in January 2023. She saw her cover photo—which features the lifestyle guru in a white swimsuit and orange coverup—for the first time during an appearance on TODAY Monday, happily telling co-hosts Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, “I like that picture.”

Stewart said that although she lives a “clean life” with a good diet and exercise, she didn’t eat any pasta or bread for a couple months and attended Pilates every other day to prepare for the shoot.

She admitted to SI in a video feature that she is normally motivated by money, but participated in the Swimsuit Issue to show people that a woman her age can still look and feel good. “I better look really good!” she thought when hearing she would be featured on the cover, understanding the significance of doing so in her 80s.

Stewart—who was notably convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements related to insider trading in 2004 and served five months in prison—hasn’t shied away from cameras in recent years. She frequently posts selfies about her haircare, skincare, and beauty habits to her Instagram page, and last September, she wore only an apron in an advertisement for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

“I think that all of us should think about good living, successful living, and not about aging. The whole aging thing is so boring.” Stewart said Monday.

Headshot of Tyler Piccotti
Tyler Piccotti
Associate News Editor, Biography.com

Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.