The domestic diva talks about shedding her inhibitions, and (most of) her clothes, for the cover shoot.
It’s useless to try to pigeonhole Martha Stewart. Decorously entertaining homemaker-slash-lifestyle guru, television personality, publisher, canny entrepreneur-turned-white-collar criminal, Snoop Dogg’s unlikely BFF — these are labels she spins, or drops when it suits her, as adroitly as a juggler.
Resisting attempts to peg or malign her, Ms. Stewart has survived, even thrived, “not as a Superwoman,” as Joan Didion once put it, “but as an Everywoman.”
But now, at 81, she seems intent on shrugging off that label as well, swapping her “domestic goddess” persona for something a little saucier: badass Martha, a hottie who, it would seem, will shuck her inhibitions as lightly as an ear of corn.
In recent months, Ms. Stewart has teased her four million Instagram followers with goofily seductive, demiclad snaps of herself. She promoted her partnership with Green Mountain Coffee wearing an apron, halter-style, over what seemed to be nothing at all. She baited her fans, pouting suggestively at the edge of her pool. And she followed those antics with a naughty throwback, her 1996 Spy magazine cover, a siren on a seashell, knees hugged to her chest to cover her nudity.
And now, in what some may consider the ultimate stroke of bravado, Ms. Stewart will appear on one of the four covers of the storied Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which drops on May 15.
She is not the first woman over 60 to appear on the cover. At 74, Maye Musk claimed that distinction. But Ms. Stewart may well be the most candidly cheerful participant in what seems a bid by Sports Illustrated to court controversy and hang on to its relevance.
Her experience was a novelty and simultaneously a test of grit, Ms. Stewart said, her voice warmly husky over the phone. In an interview, edited below, she talked about flirting, Madonna, how she came by her sexual confidence and more.
What gave you the gumption to pose?
Actually this was a rather large challenge. I had to make sure I was ready to pose in a bathing suit. It took a bit of vanity but also a bit of confidence. I thought, “If I’m feeling good enough physically and mentally to do such a thing, I’m up for it.”
Did it take a lot of prep work?
I’m still healthy, my hair is nice, and my skin is good. As for filters, forget it. I keep my facial appointments with Mario Badescu. I’ve done that once a month religiously for 40-something years.
And your body?
I had two months, basically, to make sure I felt good enough about the way I look. If I’d thought my waist was too big, or that I was too wobbly, I wouldn’t have done it. But after working in Pilates three times a week, I thought I could. Also, I went to the tanning booth and had a very light spray tan, something I’ve never done.
Were there physical challenges during the shoot?
I had to wear nine different bathing suits, each of them a one-piece. All these people were prodding me and talking about “the girls.” I have never called my breasts “the girls” in my life. I hate stuff like that.
The whole time, these people were nudging, “Poke this out, push that in a little bit.” I had to put up with that for eight hours. Still, we were shooting in the Dominican Republic and I had a really good time.
How do you come by the sexual confidence to pull off a move like this?
It doesn’t have as much to do with blatant sex as with a self-assurance that started when I was a child. So, 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?
There are people who find nothing quite as steamy as your competence at work. What do you make of that?
I just returned from four and a half hours at Breads Bakery in Union Square. I had to bake a challah in the shape of a crown, something I had never done before. When I finished, that bread looked better than the baker’s version. But I’m a teacher and kind of an artist.
An artist who makes kneading dough look sexy?
I pride myself on being able to show you physically as well as verbally how to do things.
Do you flirt?
Oh, do I. Of course I do. I’m not shy. I find certain men very attractive. If I am at a social event, I will make sure that I talk to those very attractive men.
About a year ago you joked with Chelsea Handler that while you’re no home-wrecker, you are waiting for friends to die so you can swoop down on their husbands. Do you stand by that?
I don’t take it back. But, well … the husbands do tend to go first. And, really, I prefer younger men.
Are you posing in a swimsuit to counter an image that once seemed starchy, even downright intimidating? Are you rebranding?
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.
You seem to share that conviction with Madonna. Yet when Madonna, who is 64, turned up at the Grammys in February with her face showing signs of a cosmetic procedure, she caught a lot of flak. So far, you have not.
I would never compare myself to someone like Madonna. She is a talent like no other. But as a performer she needs to keep reinventing herself. And it’s much more difficult for her to alter herself without altering her face. I don’t want to do that.
But there’s another very big difference between me and Madonna: She is wearing pointy bras and weird clothes. I’m teaching you how to roll dough.
Martha you look fantastic!