James Macari/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
For pro golfer Paige Spiranac, getting bullied has become, well, par for the course. A female athlete in a sport dominated by middle-aged men, she’s been the target of death threats, harassment, and had her privacy compromised on a daily basis. But with a stunning new spread in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2018, the 24-year-old is no longer viewing her appearance as a handicap on—or off—the fairway.
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“I embrace who I am, and I embrace the fact that I feel empowered feeling sexy,” she says.
Spiranac, who says she “freaked out” when she learned she got chosen for SI Swimsuit, is one of a handful of models to appear in the coveted annual issue. And despite whatever criticism that may come her way from the conservative golfing community, Spiranac says she never considered not doing the shoot.
“I didn’t even think twice,” she admits. “I can’t wait for golf media to talk about it and the negative comments I’m going to get. I never want to let them dictate something I really wanted to do, so there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to say yes.”
For Esquire, she discussed getting over the hate, her anti-bullying work with The Cybersmile Foundation, and why she’s no longer as interested in playing professional golf.
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The shoot gave her a “different outlook on life.”
As soon as I walked on set, everyone was so nice and welcoming. The whole time they were encouraging me and they just made me feel so confident. They’re all about body positivity and loving yourself, so throughout the entire shoot they were constantly building me up. I came out of that experience with a different outlook on life. It’s something that I’ll be forever grateful for.
She no longer lets the hate get to her.
Two years ago, [the negativity] definitely affected me. I became very depressed and I had a lot anxiety. It’s taken a little bit of time to work through all of that and realize that I can rise above it. Now I’m in a really good place and I’m not afraid to speak out on it, and I’m going to continue to speak out on it.
I realized that I could save the world and I would still get hate. I’m never going to try and please other people. All I can do is live my truth and be a good person, and I will feel right and fulfilled. That’s what matters.
But knows she’ll be criticized by the golfing community.
The majority of the hate comes from middle-aged men and women in the golf community. It’s so funny to me that we pride ourselves in golf being a gentleman’s game and it being all about sportsmanship, yet these people will turn around and say some very nasty things about someone who loves the same game that they love.
I’m harassed, sent death threats, my privacy has been invaded—pretty much anything that you can think of has happened to me. I see a lot of comments that say, “Well, look at how she dresses. She’s asking for it.” That hurts the most. I don’t think anyone deserves to be sent death threats or to be harassed.
The experience has made her an anti-bullying advocate.
I want to be less of a role model and more of a mentor. I don’t ever want kids to put me on a pedestal and feel like they can’t talk or reach out to me. I want to be there for them. My goal is to make golf more friendly and inviting, and I will continue to [pursue] my anti-bullying work.
She’s now looking beyond the game of golf.
I’m very passionate about the game, but I don’t want to do it as a living. I feel confident in the path that I’m taking now and I didn’t feel confident in the path that I was taking with golf—I just realized that I don’t want to play professionally. I’m not saying that in the next five to 10 years I’m done forever, but as of right now, I have more important things that I want to accomplish, and [fighting] cyberbullying is at the top of my list.