• Share
  • Tweet
  • Share

Kate Upton is once, twice, three times a lady—a lady who's covered the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, that is. After being named Rookie of the Year in 2011, she scored two covers back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. This year's edition of the magazine is about age inclusion and body diversity—issues that mean a lot to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor MJ Day and Upton.

To celebrate the honor, Upton appears on three separate covers.

Jimmy Kimmel debuted them on his eponymous late-night show Tuesday night.

"We didn't start off with the idea of three covers, regardless of who was on the cover. But when Kate was actually shooting, we were trying so many different looks on her and each photo was coming back just as great as the next," the editor says. "It's a full circle moment for us. We started Kate in her career, and you know, we watched her grow and become not only this worldwide, superstar phenomenon; she changed the direction of the modeling industry."

According to Day, Upton was a "trailblazer" for models like Ashley Graham.

Upton was understandably "very excited" when she got the call from Day about making a return. "Especially when this year's theme is about every woman of every age and every body type being accepted," the model says. "It was inspiring to be asked to be a part of that issue."

Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

Though she's been focused more on her acting career in recent years, it was an opportunity Upton couldn't turn down. "For me, it was MJ's passion for having it be this theme and this issue and that's why I wanted to be a part of this magazine again," she says. "Those are the campaigns I want to do and the career I want to have—to inspire women to love themselves. That's a balance of working hard and eating healthy but also enjoying life and having cheat days and for the emphasis not to be on the ideal perfect body. It makes me proud to be asked back."

"To have an issue that focuses on that is really an amazing moment for me because I think it's important for everyone to be the best they can be," she says, "not to strive to be a company or industry's idea of perfect. For SI to emphasize every different type of perfect is really inspiring."

Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

Kate Upton, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

After posing in a bikini in Antarctica in 2013 and modeling in a zero gravity chamber in 2014, Upton was excited to learn that Yu Tsai would be photographing her on the beach in Fiji. "I wasn't sent to space or Antarctica. I got to enjoy just a lovely beach shoot. Even though I love an adventure, it was nice and still was far away but it was low-key compared to my past ones," the model, 24, says. "It's crazy when a 16-hour flight to Fiji is low-key, but for me and SI it was."

Upton approached the shoot with a different attitude, too. "This year, I had a completely different mindset about my body and instead of always trying to fit in a certain sample size, I wanted to be strong and healthy. Changing my workout and focusing on weight training helped me do that. It helped me think about my body as a machine and less of something people can judge me on," Upton tells Sports Illustrated. "People feel ashamed when they look bad one day, but it's OK not to love yourself every second of every day. Appreciate what your body can do."

This year's photo shoots took women all over the world, from warm beaches in Anguilla and Turks and Caicos to an arctic resort in Finland. Other models and athletes who appear in the magazine's issue include Nina Agdal, Simon Biles, Christie Brinkley, Hailey Clauson, Hannah Jeter, Robyn Lawley, Barbara Palvin, Aly Raisman, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.