McKenna Berkley describes getting the call from her agent telling her she’d been chosen for the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition as an out of body experience.
“I literally felt like I was watching myself answer the phone, I was so excited,” Berkley says.
She immediately said yes to it all: the Anguilla location, the role of Model Search contestant — and the body paint. As someone who had mostly modeled in ad campaigns for brands such as Nordstrom, Clinique and Pottery Barn Teen, posing nearly-nude was a new experience.
“I was questioning, but at the same time that’s an opportunity that I knew that I would regret turning down and I know that it’s not naked, but it’d be verging on those lines.”
I don't want it to end tomorrow. I loved having every single one of you in the issue this year and you all rightfully deserve a place here. While there can only be one winner of the model search, with the risk of sounding cliche, you are ALL winners. You rocked body paint right off the bat with the kind of confidence and enthusiasm that I wish I could bottle. You worked so hard through launch promoting SI Swimsuit and yourselves in the most admirable way. You supported each OTHER ❤ and lifted one another up like the confident women you are. You have traversed the whole complicated and stressful landscape with grace and professionalism and I am so impressed with each one of you. You ladies are all so full of promise and potential and I cannot wait to see where you take your careers. Thank you for what you have brought to this issue and this brand. NOW go VOTE people!!! Voting ends at NOON tomorrow!!!! link is in my bio*
Berkley’s entire shoot took place in one day during the first week in January.
She had a 2 a.m. call time so a team of three artists could finish creating the painted “swimsuit” by midafternoon, when the light is best for photos.
The artists, whose job combines makeup and traditional painting, imitate the pattern of an actual swimsuit. First, they draw the outline and create a base of white paint, nearly as thick as latex, before painting the blue and green tie-dye-like design. The process took 12 hours, for much of which Berkley was standing.
“Once I had it all on, it actually felt so thick that it literally felt like I was wearing clothes,” Berkley says.
Only then did she hit the beach, spending the next five hours shooting in the sand and surf until the sun went down.
Though the team, which includes a creative director, editor and photographer, had specific shots in mind, Berkley also had the freedom to play with different poses. “It’s definitely a mixture of everyone’s visions for the shoot,” she says.
Paint me like one of your French girls Being body painted for #siswim by @joannegair @therealmarissajade @trendytribals This was probably around hour 9 and I passed out right after I took this vid 12 hours of work total these women are incredible. Be sure to keep voting! Tell ur friends & share the link! Vote to see me next year! Link in my bio @si_swimsuit
With shooting wrapped up, she had time to enjoy the Caribbean resort the next day.
“If I were to be able to be in the magazine again I would be so honored that I would wear absolutely anything they gave me,” Berkley says. “It’s just such an honor just to be in the magazine and be there next to all these iconic, strong women. To look up and see myself next to Serena Williams and Simone Biles — these strong, athletic, beautiful women — I would give anything to do that again.”