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Ashley Callingbull is breaking down barriers one camera flash at a time.
The model from the Enoch Cree Nation in the province of Alberta, Canada, is making history as the first indigenous First Nations woman to appear in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. The magazine hits newsstands on May 19.
The 32-year-old, a finalist in this year’s SI Swim Search, was chosen from thousands of submissions to fly to the Dominican Republic and photographed by acclaimed photographer Yu Tsai. The winner of the annual casting will become a rookie in the 2023 edition.
The motivational speaker and pageant queen spoke with Fox News Digital about why she took the test this year, how she overcame her personal insecurities, and what this honor means to her today.
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FoxNews: What prompted you to try SI Swim Search?
Ashley calling the bull: I saw that SI created a network of Swim Service, where women can join and have different discussions. It was about female empowerment, and that really encouraged me to get involved. And, honestly, I felt ready. I was ready for this. I wanted to do it last year, but life got too busy. But this time, he knew he had to do it. I knew thousands of women were going to try it, but I couldn’t miss my chance.
FoxNews: What was it like getting the call?
calling the bull: It was six o’clock in the morning. She was still in bed. He couldn’t tell if he was still dreaming or half awake. They said, “Are you ready to go to the Dominican Republic?” He was crying. I turned around and hugged my husband. He was so happy that he couldn’t go back to sleep *laughs*. He was so excited.
FoxNews: Did you follow the magazine before trying?
calling the bull: The first time I saw Sports Illustrated was in the 90s. It was the era of supermodels. I remember seeing Tyra Banks. It was so rare to see a woman of color on the cover of a magazine. She made me feel safe. I thought, “Maybe one day she can break barriers my way. If she can do it, I can do it.” It is much more than just seeing a face. Representation matters.
As a woman, I want my voice to be heard. I wanted to break those stereotypes of indigenous peoples. I want our people to feel like they belong wherever they want to go. All my life I have heard racist terms. I have been told that my skin is not beautiful, my culture is not beautiful. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere.
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I was an insecure girl from the reservation. I never dared to have dreams because I didn’t see anyone out there that looked like me chasing those dreams. Now, I am in a position where I can open the door for other indigenous women to comfortably enter this space. It’s crazy to think that this insecure girl is a strong and empowered woman who feels comfortable in the skin she finds herself in. I feel beautiful and I want to help other women feel the same way.
FoxNews: Was there a time when you felt insecure because you felt you didn’t fit into so-called beauty standards?
calling the bull: Of course, he was actually on a national stage for a pageant. Now, in 2010, I was the only indigenous woman competing. A media outlet decided to make a joke about it. I remember they wrote, “An indigenous woman is competing. I wonder what she’s going to do because of her talent. Is she going to sign welfare checks with her toes or is she going to swallow Lysol?”
Now, this wouldn’t fly today. But for some reason it was okay to write that in 2010. People associated me with that stereotype, and it was amplified a lot because I’m so proud to be indigenous. I was wearing my regalia. I didn’t change for anyone in this contest. I remember that only my mom could afford to go to the pageant because it was so expensive. I made it to the top five. I’m standing here in my traditional dress. I looked at the women next to me, and they were all wearing typical evening dresses. For a moment there, I felt so alone.
Then I started to hear a woman singing our traditional song. I thought she was driving me crazy. And I realized that the indigenous people came to support me. My people came to support me. And that blew a fire inside of me. She lifted me up. And I knew, in that moment, that I was going to belong, regardless of what barriers I had to go through. Even though he would have to fight even harder just to be in this space. I wasn’t going to change for anyone.
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FoxNews: You are making history as the magazine’s first indigenous model. What does that mean to you?
calling the bull: It’s a great honor. Not only has it changed my life, but it can change other people’s lives. I’m so happy. My heart feels happy. It feels like you’re smiling. This is how this honor makes me feel.
FoxNews: What was it like to finally do the shoot?
calling the bull: That was the moment I finally realized it. It was real. I couldn’t believe I was on set… I was absorbing every moment. And once the shooting started, she was so excited. I felt so confident, more confident than ever in my entire life. It gave me this fuel that I can make bigger changes and do more things.
All my life I felt judged. I want to use this platform to amplify my voice, celebrate who I am, and encourage others who are like me. It is a time of celebration. memory [photographer] Yu Tsai was very encouraging. This is someone who has photographed every SI supermodel. And yet he was so welcoming and kind. He knew he belonged and that felt good.
FoxNews: How did you physically prepare for your shoot?
calling the bull: You know, during the beginning of the pandemic, I started to feel lost. All of my work had to go virtual and a lot of what I do revolves around traveling and working with youth. But for indigenous peoples, we believe that movement is medicine. I wanted to feel better, so I started exercising. I would go running with my dog and it made me feel healthy again.
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I’m also a jingle dancer. Being in nature made me feel free. It’s my connection to the land, being outside. So even before I did SI, I wanted to work on my strength training and be in as healthy a shape as possible, so I could feel good. And I always prepare to sing in the summer. By the time SI came along, running had become my routine… I just wanted to be the best version of myself. And SI just wants you to feel comfortable and safe just the way you are. I still snack a lot *laughs*.
But strength training and running are part of my journey. One of the main reasons I started exercising was for my mental health. I had no motivation. Running with my dog and stretching outside cleared my head. And when I’m mentally strong, I feel like I can conquer anything. Working on my physical was very important to help my mental and spiritual. [health]. Even if I achieve a little training, I feel like I achieved something. And from there, I feel ready to achieve anything. It was about improving myself. And that was my real motivation.
FoxNews: What is the message you hope women and girls get when they see your photo on SI for the first time?
calling the bull: I want all women to love and appreciate themselves for the way they were created. I want you to live fearlessly and never let fear stop you from pursuing your dreams, no matter how big or small. I was an insecure girl who did not dare to dream. But now I am a strong and resilient woman. I hope my image lets others know that they are not alone.