Olivia Ponton: Spreading Positivity and Living Her Truth

With her contagious smile that lights up a room, model, influencer, and content creator Olivia Ponton is more than just a beautiful face.

In early 2020, the Florida native signed with Wilhelmina Model’s NYC, but the world had other plans when COVID-19 hit. With her modeling career temporarily on hold, Olivia took advantage of her hometown’s beautiful surroundings and began filming her workouts on local area beaches. It was here she saw her online presence rise as she amassed a tremendous following across her social media platforms.

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Along with the work Olivia does in front of the camera, modeling for brands such as American Eagle, Skims, Ralph Lauren, Nicole Miller, as well as being chosen this year for the rookie class of 2022 for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, Olivia uses her social media platforms to promote positivity, health, and wellness, and is a passionate advocate for issues that are close to her heart.

Growing up in Florida instilled in Olivia a love for the ocean and the passion to protect it. “I had the blessing of growing up near a beautiful beach in Naples, and only after I moved somewhere else did I realize how blessed I was with my beach situation.”

As she began traveling to other tropical places and seeing the amount of trash that accumulated on these beautiful beaches, Olivia developed an even greater awareness of the amount of ocean conservation that needs to happen.

Together with 4Ocean, an organization aimed at ending the ocean plastic crisis, Olivia is working to help spread awareness. “It is such an amazing organization,” she says.

In addition to her work with 4Ocean, Olivia is a prominent figure within the LGBTQ+ community and speaks candidly about the mental health struggles she faced growing up, as well as those from more recent times when she came out in 2021 during Pride Month. Olivia explains her passion for helping other young people who may be facing the same type of situation.

“In this past year, I’ve been able to help other people with similar problems I was having, and that makes up for everything,” she says. “It’s my true happiness.”

BELLA sat down with Olivia to talk about what it’s like being a part of the Sports Illustrated family, the people who have inspired her to embrace her true self, and how she handles some of life’s more difficult moments. She is truly an inspiration!

As young kids we all have a dream of what we want to be when we grow up. What was yours?

Growing up I wanted to be an anesthesiologist, and then around age 14, I wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret model. But keep in mind, I was 5’1” at that time and hadn’t even hit puberty. It felt very unrealistic for me. And with playing so many sports, I had a very athletic physique, so I did not think I would fit in.

This year you were chosen for the rookie class of 2022 for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. How was the experience shooting for such an iconic publication?

It was absolutely exhilarating! I’m so honored to be a part of a group of such beautiful and inspiring women. I looked up to all these women growing up, so I am super honored to be a part of Sports Illustrated this year.

What does it mean to you being a part of the SI family?

Being a part of the SI family to me means being accepted for exactly who I am. To be completely honest, because I looked up to these girls for numerous years, I am still just completely astonished that I’m able to be a part of such a diverse, beautiful group of women!

You were quoted in an article saying that the modeling industry empowers you. Can you share a little more about that? 

The industry can be a little tough, but I have been blessed to find some really good people to surround myself with. I would never do something unless I absolutely loved it. I love taking pictures, shooting on site, and being around all the creative brains that are required. Even doing test shoots are so interesting to me, because you can see how creative you can get.

Modeling takes you all over the world. What are some of your favorite places?

I’ve been traveling with my family since I can remember. I would probably say Hawaii as I consider it my second home. You know that feeling when you constantly feel a pull toward a certain city or country? That’s how I am with Hawaii. I definitely see myself living there in the next few years.

In addition to the many brands you work with, you’re also an investor and collaborator with Nudestix Skin. Can you share a little but about your partnership? 

They are just an absolutely beautiful brand, and the products work perfectly for my day-to-day makeup.

Funny story…I was searching everywhere for some good cream-based products because with modeling it is the perfect and ideal thing to use for natural casting makeup. Then I came across a Nudestix after about three weeks of looking, and I absolutely fell in love with them.

You are a role model for so many. Who are some of the people you look up to?

Definitely Josephine Skriver. She is one of the main reasons I got into modeling in the first place. I also really look up to Megan Rapinoe in the LGBTQ community, and I also adore Leyna Bloom. I met her through Sports Illustrated and just absolutely fell in love with her and everything she stands for.

Along with the work you do in front of the camera, you are tirelessly working behind the scenes to raise awareness for mental health and support causes close to your heart. What are some of the organizations you’re currently involved with?

There is probably equal, if not more, work done behind the scenes. Because I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I work a lot with the GLAAD Foundation and The Trevor Project.  Honestly, raising awareness for Pride Month and mental health awareness in the LGBTQ community is something that hits close to home for me.

Growing up, I have had my fair share of mental health struggles, especially with finally coming out and accepting who I am. Trust me, it’s been an absolute roller coaster, and that’s why I like to raise awareness about it because I know I could help somebody else out with my story and that means everything to me.

When you came out last year during Pride Month 2021, what was the response like? Did you face certain challenges afterward?

I received very mixed responses. Some people were super accepting and happy for me, and others were unfortunately not. It was a very hard time for my mental health, but I’m happy I got through it and came out of it with a strong, supportive group of people. I came to terms with everything, and I was on this beautiful journey of learning that LOVE IS LOVE!

Fast-forward a year later—how do you feel being able to live and enjoy life in the ways in which it makes you the happiest?

It’s a surreal moment. It’s been a year now that I’ve been out and proud, and a weight has been lifted off my shoulder in the past year. I’ve slowly but surely become more confident and comfortable in who I am and who I love.

You’re transparent about speaking on issues that affect your life, such as body dysmorphia. When faced with these inner struggles, how do you handle them?

Honestly, I struggle with body dysmorphia in waves. Personally, I try as hard as I can to get out of my head. Sometimes it’s hard to do, but I surround myself with positive things. I do things that make my body feel good and try to get out of my head by working out and cooking healthy meals.

A lot has happened since 2020 for you both professionally and personally. How would you describe these past two years?

Honestly, it feels like a dream. It still amazes me, waking up each morning and being blessed enough to even have a house over my head and food on the table. There has also been a lot of self-discovery and some wild adventures. I have been able to travel to some pretty insane places and that has helped with my self-discovery journey.

I’ve found what really makes me happy and to where I feel the most drawn. The amount of people that I’ve been able to meet makes me so happy—just making friends is one of my favorite things to do, as is having deep, serious connections with people. I’m so blessed to have the life that I have. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

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