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Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor: Sexy and empowered can go together

  • This year, the magazine is featuring black-and-white nudes that are meant to convey a message.
  • The feature is meant to illustrate and give voice to the diversity of the women that we feature in our magazine, editor MJ Day says.
  • "I'm inspired by this moment in time that we're in," she says.

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition wants to send a message that sexy and empowered can go together, its editor, MJ Day, told CNBC on Wednesday.

This year, the magazine is trying something new. In addition to featuring women in bathing suits, there are black-and-white nudes that are meant to convey a message.

It's part of the magazine's "in her own words" project meant to "illustrate and give voice to the diversity of the women that we feature in our magazine, to make the statement that they are more than just a beautiful face," Day said in an interview with "Power Lunch."

Words like "strong," "truth," "genuine" and "mother" are written on the models' naked bodies.

The idea was born before the #MeToo movement "was even a whisper," she added. #MeToo began trending to help bring attention to sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace.

Critics have been quick to respond to the magazine's latest feature, even before the latest edition was released.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry also weighed in, which elicited a response from one of the magazine's participants, golfer Paige Spiranac.

Day doesn't necessarily think it's more difficult to produce the swimsuit edition in this environment.

"I'm inspired by this moment in time that we're in," she said.

"With the readership and the eyeballs that this magazine and that this franchise has, it's our opportunity to make a positive change and to evolve as a brand and to become something more than a magazine full of women in bathing suits," Day added. "This is a magazine full of very exciting and compelling humans that have a lot to say other than just look really good and inspire people on the beach."

She also said that no woman who participates in the magazine does it for men. "She does it for herself."

And the readers aren't just men — 16 million of them are female, said Day.

The 2018 swimsuit edition was released Tuesday.