Sex. Therapy. Acne. Why I Expose Everything: Olivia Ponton of Sports Illustrated
When Olivia Ponton has something on her mind, she doesn’t keep it to herself. She says it then blasts it on TikTok or Instagram for her 11 million followers.
“It’s not easy,” the 20-year-old Sports Illustrated model told The Post on a recent spring day ahead of Coachella. Ponton can’t reveal if she’ll follow up with her 2022 debut when the SI Swim issue hits newsstands Tuesday (although Padma Lakshmi has already revealed she’s in it), but she’s definitely part of the SI family, as editor from the Instagram channel.
That award is because of her own influence on social media. In addition to silly dance videos and makeup tutorials, Ponton posts candid admissions about her acceptance of her sexuality (she now identifies as “pansexual”), her struggles with eating disorders, and her myriad insecurities.
But she said it’s important to keep it real for her teen fans, from showing her a photo of her happily cuddling with another woman to filming herself talking about her anxiety.
“I just think of when I was a young girl and thought, what kind [role model] did I need that at that age?” she added. “I’m working on becoming that.”
Ponton’s candor has helped her get noticed.
The Florida native has modeled for Fendi, Tory Burch, Juicy Couture and American Eagle. She flew to Montenegro and donned a bikini for Sports Illustrated and graced SI Swim’s Instagram as the “social media editor at large.”
Her candor on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to climate change to sustainability has only made her more appealing to brands looking to appeal to Gen Z.
The Democratic Party tapped her to urge young people to vote in last year’s midterm elections. And this year she debuted her first campaign with Victoria’s Secret, a lifelong dream.
“I couldn’t believe it was real,” Ponton said of the US Pink shoot. “I felt like fainting. I went to the bathroom and cried because I was so happy.”
Olivia Ponton was born in Naples, Florida, in 2002. “I had a very relaxed childhood,” said Ponton. “We always went to the beach.”
Her parents were both teachers and took their two daughters to different countries for summer vacations: Hungary, Paris, Germany and Costa Rica. It made Ponton want to see the world. “I like to travel,” she said.
Ponton ran track and field in school, but at the age of 13 she decided she wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel. “I loved them,” she said of the bodacious lingerie models who were superstars at the time.
“Everyone laughed at me because I was so little,” she recalls. “Fortunately, I had a growth spurt,” the now-5-foot-9 model added.
When Ponton was about 16, her father took her to Miami during Miami Swim Week. There she met a real model. She was six feet tall and worked full-time as a fashion model. Pontoon was handcuffed.
When she came home, she applied to the major modeling agencies and convinced her parents to let her meet Wilhelmina in New York City in March 2020. [for them to sign the contract].” (She’s on IMG now.)
But the day after she left the Big Apple, the country shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of flying around the world for modeling campaigns, Ponton was stuck in her parents’ house, attending Zoom high school and bored to death.
So she turned to TikTok. She posted workout videos, beach videos, outfit videos, crazy videos. They all showcased her goofy, gregarious personality – and won her a lot of fans.
“I never thought social media and modeling would go together,” said Ponton. “It was just really fun for me.” Now she can’t imagine her career without it.
Ponton has 7.9 million followers on TikTok and 3.2 million on Instagram. Social media has brought her a stylist, friends and romantic partners, jobs. But that attention also has a downside.
Online trolls left cruel comments on her Instagram posts, criticizing her bikini body. They called her too fat or not busty enough or just plain unattractive.
The onslaught of insults led her to hate her body. She also did not find much solace in her modeling work. Although she booked high-profile appearances, some of the high fashion samples weren’t over her hips.
“I developed an eating disorder,” she said. She stopped eating, thinking that becoming “super skinny” would solve all her problems.
Ponton began speaking publicly and in front of her audience about her complex relationship with food and her body. She also has a therapist. But speaking out about her issues — and connecting with so many other women struggling with eating disorders — has helped her come to terms with her body.
“I realized that [loving yourself and your body] is a decision that you make, that you choose,” she said. “You have to say to yourself, ‘I am beautiful.'”
Last June, Ponton came out as “bisexual” in an interview with Teen Vogue. (She now identifies as pansexual, meaning she’s attracted to a person regardless of their gender.)
It happened when she came across her now ex-girlfriend’s profile on social media and couldn’t tell if she just thought she was beautiful or was sexually attracted to her. Ponton slipped into her DMs and the two began a relationship.
She didn’t necessarily hide it from her fans — she posted cozy videos of the two of them — but Ponton struggled to wrap her head around the fact that she could be gay.
“I realize I had a lot of internalized homophobia,” she said. “I thought, I’m very femme presenting, I can’t come out, I don’t look like a lesbian! It took me a while to realize that you can look in any direction [and be gay].”
She said that struggling with her sexuality also helped her with her body image issues. “You don’t have to worry about the male gaze,” she says. “I can go out tonight without guys thinking I’m pretty.”
That’s what she does. Ponton now divides her time between Los Angeles and the East Village. When she’s not modeling, she says she enjoys dining out, exercising, picking up trash from the beach (she’s involved with the 4OCEAN organization), going snorkeling, and even painting pottery.
She adds that she is single for now.
“I travel so much for work,” she said. “I was tired of constantly breaking my heart!” And as she would tell her followers, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.