Louisiana State University gymnast and college junior Olivia Dunne is the top-paid woman collegiate athlete in the country — and now, she’s one of the first college athletes appear in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue. The only other one will also debut in this year’s issue.
You’ve probably seen Dunne’s content splash across your TikTok or Instagram feed, where she is known as “Livvy” and shares a look at everything from her LSU practices and competitions to her workouts and outfits with her combined 11 million followers.
As much as Dunne is capitalizing on her social media fame for success’s sake — the NCAA’s current name, image, and likeness policy went into effect in July 2021; before that, college athletes were not allowed to make money off brand deals or sponsorships — she’s also hell-bent on making a bigger impact. “Women’s sports is something that I want to support and leave my legacy on,” Dunne told People in an interview about her SI appearance. “I want to show other athletes that you can have it all — especially women.”
“Girls aren’t responsible for the bad behavior of boys. A lot of gymnasts are taught to keep quiet, and that led to a lot of abuse in the sport. I want to be part of the new generation that tells girls to use their voice.”
Dunne has come under fire for “‘leveraging’ her sexuality for endorsement dollars,” per SI Swimsuit Editor in Chief MJ Day, but both she and Dunne are quick to correct that line of thinking. “We are here to celebrate this incredible young woman and encourage the world to respect and applaud Livvy and her fellow athletes for owning the blood, sweat and tears that have fueled a lifetime of achievements,” Day said in the SI announcement. Dunne added to that, telling People: “I can be an athlete, I can be strong, I can be beautiful, I can be confident and sexy — and sometimes people don’t really realize that.”
When the LSU gymnastics season opener in January brought packs of unruly men fans harassing other competitors who weren’t Livvy, Dunne didn’t hesitate to post a Tweet demanding respect for the other gymnasts and the gymnastics community.
“Girls aren’t responsible for the bad behavior of boys,” she told Sports Illustrated. “A lot of gymnasts are taught to keep quiet, and that led to a lot of abuse in the sport. I want to be part of the new generation that tells girls to use their voice. You can be comfortable in your own skin and be strong, sexy and smart.”
Dunne shouted out Olympic gymnast, abuse whistleblower, and former SI Swimsuit model Aly Raisman as an inspiration. “I’m also a really big fan of when Aly Raisman did her photo shoots for SI Swimsuit [in 2017 and ’18] because she’s always been a role model of mine in the gymnastics world,” Dunne told SI. “And I just feel like she uses her spotlight to bring awareness to the survivors of the abuse in women’s sports.”
Dunne very well may be part of what’s fueling the changes behind women’s sports, which include finally gaining footing toward the kind of platform men’s sports enjoy. This year’s women’s NCAA March Madness (won by none other than LSU), for example, set attendance and viewership records, while generating unprecedented social media buzz.
“I hope I can bring attention to how amazing college sports are and how hard college athletics are. People don’t see [behind the scenes] every day of my college athletics, and it’s very time-consuming,” Dunne told SI. “In gymnastics, a lot of people only watch the Olympics every four years, and I feel like I’ve been able to use my platform to bring an audience to college gymnastics, and people are starting to see how amazing all these gymnasts are.”
getting back into the swing of things:) #foryou #lsu #gymnastics
This year, the 2023 NCAA gymnastics championships set a viewership record with over a million viewers on ESPN’s platforms, according to Front Office Sports, thanks in part to Dunne and other star gymnasts, including Olympians Jordan Chiles of UCLA and Sunisa Lee of Auburn.
What’s next for Dunne? Establishing a fund to raise money for women’s sports and mentoring other athletes, she told SI: “I want to show young girls that you can have it all.”
The 2023 edition of the annual SI Swimsuit Issue will be released next month.
Image Source: Getty Images / Alex Goodlett / Stringer