Flower Lover Martha Stewart Blooms as SI Cover Girl at 81

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By Jill Brooke

Flower lover Martha Stewart is proving that you can age young by always learning and doing. Now she is Sports Illustrated’s oldest cover girl – at 81!

Martha says she hopes the cover “inspires you to challenge yourself to try new things, no matter what stage of life you are in.”

Stewart, who transformed herself from stockbroker to decorator to Omnimedia mogul, never turned down an opportunity to grow — and profit from her talents. She has proven once again that a brainy babe is not an oxymoron.

Judging by the responses to her Instagram page, people are applauding her bravado.

Her Sports Illustrated cover, often reserved for scant swimsuit models, has gleefully taken a power saw to outdated perceptions of what is sexy. And it neatly upends how society defines attractive and relevant.

True, Stewart has been blessed genetically. Her cheekbones could hold hangers. And she began as a model long before pivoting to lifestyle mogul. Admirably, she never wanted to dine exclusively on her good looks.

But en route, she changed the perception of the domestic arts.

For a pursuit that was plagued by a whiff of superficiality, unless men were chefs, this self-taught former stockbroker approached the domestic arts with serious study and scientific zeal. Her attention to detail and tenacious curiosity built an empire making her in 2000 the first self-made female billionaire in the United States. Amazing right? And what I love is she has always been the goddess of the garden, sharing tips and flower varieties to adore and grow. Her book, “Flowers” was not only a tutorial but an inspiration to millions.

So it is no surprise that she is evolving and sparking envy and respect for her beauty too. After all, to look like her does require strategies to achieve beauty in one’s seasoned years. And isn’t every experience a ferry that leads you to the next chapter of life?  She says she did the cover because she wants to encourage women to look and feel good. As a result, she is once again a trailblazer, providing recipes for navigating older age with grace and style

Yet, despite the extraordinary nature of the SI cover, The New York Times resorted to tired male assumptions, asking Stewart if she did the cover to “counter an image that once seemed starchy, even downright intimidating. “Are you rebranding?”  the reporter asked. She was quick to counter — and correct — conventional perceptions.

“No, this is part of my ongoing self-creation — I call it education. One of my mottos for many years has been: When you’re through changing, you’re through.”

Saying yes to SI wasn’t vanity. Or correcting sexist takes on powerful women. It was another chance to remind the world that confidence and self-esteem are lasting traits. Life should be fun at all stages. Opportunities should be seized and enjoyed.

“If I’m feeling good enough physically and mentally to do such a thing, I’m up for it,” she said. “It doesn’t have as much to do with blatant sex as with a self-assurance that started when I was a child. When the offer came, I thought: ‘I can do this. I don’t have to give in to convention. How else would I, as an 81-year-old, have talked myself into feeling good about getting into a bathing suit?”

Of course, shifting perceptions isn’t new for many successful women. At 89, Gloria Steinem is still an activist, championing women’s rights. Ruth Bader Ginsberg remained on the Supreme Court until her death — at 87 — considered one of the most influential justices in American history.

Women are proving there is no expiration date on relevancy, possibility or beauty.

Sports Illustrated was smart to approach Martha — it smashed stereotypes of older women. What’s great is that this is becoming a pattern.

What a year for women! At 72, Bonnie Raitt wins a Grammy. At 64, Jamie Leigh Curtis wins an Oscar. Now, Martha Stewart makes magazine history by debuting — let’s say it once again, at 81 — as a cover girl in a bathing suit.

These women are a potent reminder that the right attitude, focus, and confidence pay major dividends. And that women can always be in bloom.


Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD and a contributor to Florists Review magazine.