Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers through the decades

Bikinis, beaches and bombshells: From a VERY demure two-piece in 1964 to Kate Upton's barely-there number, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers through the decades

The decision to put buxom blonde, Kate Upton, on the cover of this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue continues the magazine's long tradition of favouring voluptuous models for the coveted photo shoot.

She is a far cry, however, from the magazine's first ever cover girl, Babette March, who appeared in a far more modest, albeit risque for the time, white, two-piece number in 1964.

The Michigan-born 19-year-old, who posed in a skimpy red number by Suit Yourself Bikinis for the 2012 issue, will enjoy the rewards of her appearance on the iconic Swimsuit issue for years to come following the succession of past stars whose careers have been launched far beyond the realm of the fashion world by their cover debuts.

Babette March on the first cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1964

The 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue featuring Kate Upton

48 years and still growing! Babette March appeared on the first ever Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1964 (left) wearing a then risque two piece bikini. Yesterday, voluptuous siren, Kate Upton, was revealed as the 2012 cover star of the iconic issue wearing a considerably smaller number designed by Suit Yourself Bikinis

March, a former hairdresser born in Berlin, had been convinced to try
modelling by her husband and had become one of the highest paid models
in Manhattan prior to winning the coveted Sports Illustrated cover.

1989, Fred Smith, who shot the relatively flat-chested Ford model in
Mexico, recalled her 'wistful, frisky animal spirit' and how she became
'an instant star'.

Sue Peterson was the first voluptuous model to appear on the cover in 1965

Cheryl Tiegs graces the cover in 1975

Ahead of the curve: Sue Peterson was the first 'healthy' looking model for the cover in 1964 (left). Cheryl Tiegs was a popular favourite (right) whose appearance in a later 1978 issue caused a huge stir when she was photographed in a nearly see-through swimsuit. Over 300 outraged readers cancelled their subscription that year

The choice to shoot women with curves
came early on after Sue Peterson graced the cover in 1965. A former
editor, Walter Bingham, who wrote about his time at Sports Illustrated
for the Cape Cod Times remembered her as 'a beautiful young woman who
did not look undernourished.'

Over the years the enviable curves of models like Christie Brinkley, Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks have been as admired by women as they have been lusted after by men while the sexy sun-drenched beach shots have propelled them to international stardom.

Elle MacPherson in 1986

Tyra Banks in 1997

Heidi Klum in 1998

Admirable assets: The Sports Illustrated cover stars like Elle MacPherson (left), Tyra Banks (middle) and Heidi Klum (right) were made household names by the magazine. The provocative images have attracted millions of fans over the years but are disapproved of by moral flag bearers and feminists who see them as exploitative

Yamila Diaz in 2002

Veronica Varekova in 2004

Rachel Hunter, Elle Macpherson, Rebecca Romijn, Veronica Varekova, Yamila Diaz, Daniella Pestova, Elsa Benitez and Carolyn Murphy in 2006

Sizzle: Yamila Diaz (left) waves the flag for Latin America in 2002 while Veronica Verakova (middle) was pictured in Montauk, NY. In 2006, the magazine decided to capitalise on the popularity of their sexy issue by putting eight past cover girls on the front of the issue including Rachel Hunter, Elle MacPherson and Rebecca Romjin

Other famous faces (and bodies) to have appeared on the prolific Swimsuit Issue include, Paulina
Porizkova, Elle Macpherson, Rachel Hunter,
Rebecca Romijn, Petra Nemcova, Valeria Mazza
and Marisa Miller to name a few and in 2007, Beyonce Knowles became the first ever non-model to be given the honour.

The issue has always been both
celebrated and criticised for its portrayal of women as seductive,
pouting sirens photographed entirely for the pleasure of men.

Beyonce Knowles in 2007

Bar Rafaeli in 2009

Exception to the rule: Beyonce Knowles (left) was the first non-model to appear on the prestigious cover in 2007 while Israeli model Bar Rafaeli (right) was shot in 2009

Bryan Curtis wrote in Slate in 2005:
'Whereas a reader in 1966 could wail, “What do swimsuits have to do with
football” today's subscriber recognizes that sports is irretrievably
linked with sex.

'Of course, Sports Illustrated helped create the sex-sports nexus, by bringing the supermodels directly to the fans.'

Invented by Sports Illustrated
editor, Andre Laguerre, the Swimsuit Issue was designed to fill a void
left by a dearth of sporting events and news in the winter months.

Brooklyn Decker in 2010

Irina Shayk in 2011

Bringing up the rear: All-American girl Brooklyn
Decker stripped for the sex 2010 cover in the Maldives and last year
passed the mantel to Russian beauty Irina Shayk

Mr Bingham recalled the beginnings of
the legendary issue, writing: 'At a certain point, the section became so
big, such a money-maker, it
was decided to make it an issue unto itself. The suits got skimpier and
skimpier, the models' attributes bigger and bigger.'

The most controversial edition was in
fact a 1978 issue in which Cheryl Tiegs appeared in an almost
see-through swimsuit inside the pages of the glossy. Over 300 loyal fans
of the glossy canceled their subscriptions.

A spokesman for Sports Illustrated told
the New York Daily News that attitudes have changed. 'People recognize
that we’re all about beautiful, healthy, empowered
women and capturing them when they feel their most glamorous,' she said.

These days the magazine claims it receives less complaints than ever though subscribers of the regular Sports Illustrated are still able to opt out of the Swimsuit Issue.

VIDEO: Watch the Kate Upton Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition photo shoot