SI Swimsuit finalist Clarissa Bowers recalls growing up in a military family: ‘I want to keep it going’

Clarissa Bowers was in class at Vanderbilt University when the model learned she was one of the top six finalists in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2020 Model Search.

And the 22-year-old is in good company. The student studying neuroscience joins Kathy Jacobs, Tanaye White, Jamea Lynee, Christie Valdiserri and Brielle Anyea as one of the select few who will pose for the magazine this year in hopes of becoming the final Model Search winner.

Bowers spoke to Fox News about her journey with SI, her military upbringing and why Kate Upton is an inspiration.

Fox News: Is it true you were raised in a military family?
Clarissa Bowers: My father has been in the Navy for about 30 years now. I have a brother in the Navy, another brother in the Marines, and I’m planning on joining the Navy myself once I am accepted into a medical program. I want to keep it going. Coming from a military family, I’ve always had an innate appreciation for what the men and women of the military do for our country. They help us feel secure.

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I love working with kids and the military. I think those are two very underserved populations. It makes my day. I’m still trying to figure out my exact path. But I know I want to do reconstructive surgery possibly.

Seeing all of these men and women go overseas, fight for our security and our safety has always been an inspiration for me. However, they don’t always get to come back with the same mind and body they left with. So now, I like to volunteer at the VA where I can help out a little bit concerning the psychological aspects. But I also would really like to get into medicine and put back some of those pieces physically.

Fox News: How did you find out you were a finalist in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2020 Model Search?
Bowers: I was actually walking to class. I was listening to music on my phone. This number that I didn’t have saved called me. I hung up on it. Then the number called me while I was in the classroom. So I hung up again and finished listening to my music before class started. Then the number called again! So I figure, maybe this is an emergency. Maybe something happened to my parents and someone was trying to call using a different phone because it was urgent.

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Class is just about to start and this time, I answered it. Then I hear, "Hi Clarissa, this is from Sports Illustrated!" I just melted into my chair. Oh my goodness, I hung up on Sports Illustrated! I ran out of class and got the news. But then I had to go back to class! And then I had a three-hour study course after that.

I was just jittering in my seat the entire time while I’m trying to focus. I didn’t want my classmates to wonder why I was suddenly crying in the middle of a lecture. I still shake when I think about it. It’s just something I never thought would actually happen.

Fox News: What does being a finalist mean to you?
Bowers: It means so much to me because I know it will mean so much more to other girls out there who are going to see it. And not just me, but all the other finalists. We have different body shapes, height, age, skin tone, background – we all bring such different perspectives to the table. I’m in that position to inspire another girl who will look at this and feel inspired to accept their body, no matter its size. That’s so hard to wrap my head around.

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Fox News: How did you learn about model search?
Bowers: I actually did the model search in 2018. I made it past the first few rounds, but then things started closing up. I saw it was happening again and I was in Miami for work at the time. I thought, "Crazier things have happened. Why not?" And it looks like it worked out the second time around.

Fox News: What was the process like in trying out?
Bowers: I’ve modeled for a few years now. But with the SI casting, it’s a much longer process. There are thousands of girls that show up in hopes that they’ll make it to the magazine. It can be a very long wait. And yet all the girls are so nice. The crowd that is drawn by this brand is just so kind… I waited there in the rain for several hours [to try out].

But in those several hours, the girls around me and I became so close. We still chat. And I still chat with the girls from the first year. I still chat with them nearly every day. I saw a lot of them at the second casting as well.

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Fox News: Is it true Kate Upton has been an inspiration for you?
Bowers: She has always been an inspiration. She was on the cover of the first magazine that I remember ever seeing at the checkout line of the grocery store. And she was very different from other models at the time. She was a curvy, blond, gorgeous athletic girl.

I looked at it and thought, "Wow, if she’s doing it and she’s being accepted, then all these other body types should be accepted, too." I’ve never met Kate Upton, but she seems so happy with herself and so confident. That was something that really appealed to me. And I wanted to be a part of that.

Fox News: In the past, you were told you had to lose weight as a model. How difficult was that for you?
Bowers: I think it definitely had an impact on me, especially because I was so young when it happened. I remember being maybe 13 or 14 and standing in front of a casting panel. I was a size zero at the time.

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And then I had full grown adults tell me to my face that my hips were too big, or this jiggles when I walk. You can say to yourself, "I won’t take it personally." But it's hard not to let those comments impact you, especially if you’re hearing such blunt comments about your body at such a young age when you’re not even grown fully into your body yet. I also played a lot of sports growing up.

It was always a big balance for me. How do I put on muscle to be good at a sport I really like, but also stay super thin so my agency doesn’t tell me to lose weight? It became enough of a struggle for me that eventually I just gave up and thought modeling was not for me. I told my parents I didn’t want to do it anymore and I put all of my focus into volleyball and other athletics at school.

I gained a little bit of weight. I put on some muscle. And then I ended up meeting the agent that I’m with now, who said, "Nope, you’re perfectly fine at whatever size you want to be. We’ll advocate for you." That’s what really made me feel comfortable pursuing modeling again… I had someone in my corner. And I wasn’t going to be chosen, only to be told I need to lose weight.

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Fox News: You entered the Miss World America pageant a few years ago. What did that teach you about our country and its people?
Bowers: Growing up with all boys and having my feet in the mud, I definitely didn’t see pageants coming [laughs]. But I was really grateful for the opportunity. I represented the United States of America. That feels pretty special. I definitely consider myself to be a patriot. And that feels pretty special too. And it also gave me the opportunity to learn from various cultures, which was a lot of fun for me.

Fox News: What’s next for you and SI?
Bowers: I am taking it one day at a time *laughs*. I am not sure. They narrowed it down to the six of us. They revealed we’re going to be shooting in Turks and Caicos so I’m really excited about that… After that? We’ll just be taking it one day at a time until they finalized their search.

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Fox News: In your opinion, how is the magazine breaking boundaries?
Bowers: You can see it by just looking at the six of us. None of us are of the same height, age, skin color. None of us have the same background. We all bring such different skills to the table, different life stories….

You can even look at the thousands of women that showed up to the casting. They draw such a diverse crowd. And there’s a reason for that. They appeal to the masses because they make everyone feel represented. Everyone is deserving of being represented in this magazine. So really, they’re breaking boundaries by example. They’re not saying they want to be the change. They’re being the change.