Valentina Sampaio is once again making history. The 23-year-old Brazilian model just became the first transgender model to appear in the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She has been named a "rookie" for the upcoming 2020 issue, which hits stands later this month, and will model multiple swimsuit looks.
"I am excited and honored to be part of the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue," Sampaio wrote on Instagram alongside one of the looks from the issue, a taupe lumière bikini by Triangl. "The team at SI has created yet another groundbreaking issue by bringing together a diverse set of multitalented, beautiful women in a creative and dignified way."
She goes onto explain that her success did not come easy, detailing the brutal crimes against the transgender community in her native country and the discrimination she has faced in the industry. “Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds. We face snickers, insults, fearful reactions and physical violations just for existing. Our options for growing up in a loving and accepting family, having a fruitful experience at school or finding dignified work are unimaginably limited and challenging.”
In a statement to Today, the Sports Illustrated team elaborated on the move: “Our goal in selecting who we feature in the SI Swimsuit Issue is centered around identifying some of the most inspiring, interesting and multidimensional women that we can find.” In recent years, SI has diversified their swimsuit issue with models of varying sizes, skin tones, and ages, and in 2019, the magazine featured the first Muslim model wearing a hijab.
The statement continued: “Valentina has been on our radar for some time now and when we finally met face-to-face it became apparent that besides her obvious beauty, she is an impassioned activist, a true pioneer for the LGBT+ community and just simply embodies the well-rounded woman we are proud to have represent SI Swimsuit across our platforms."
But this isn’t the first time Sampaio has broken barriers for trans models. In 2017, she made history when she became the first trans model to appear on the cover of Vogue Paris, and then again when she was named Victoria’s Secret’s first trans model in 2019. Sampaio joins a growing list of transgender models who are challenging the fashion industry’s long-standing status quo and landing magazine covers, campaigns, and runways.
Still, she recognizes that she is one of the fortunate ones and knows that her success comes with a responsibility to stand up for the LGBTQ community. “I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can,” Sampaio wrote for SI. “What unites us as humans is that we all share the common desire to be accepted and loved for who we are. Thank you SI for seeing and respecting me as I truly am. For understanding that more than anything, I am human. Thank you for supporting me in continuing to spread a message of love, compassion and unity for ALL.”
Since the reveal, Sampaio has been met with overwhelming support and praise on social media. “Congratulations beauty! So happy for you!” commented fellow SI swimsuit model Ashley Graham. “Show em how it’s done!!! Welcome to the family angel!” added model Hunter McGrady.
The 2020 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is set to hit newsstands on July 21. In the meantime, check out the clip above to hear more of Sampaio’s inspiring story.
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