Valentina Sampaio becomes first transgender model in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that will be released next month will feature 23-year-old Valentina Sampaio, the first transgender model to appear in the annual publication.

Brazilian-born Sampaio was also recognized as a rookie of the year.

“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,” the Sports Illustrated organization said in a statement. “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.”

Sampaio said that she is “excited and honored” to be a part of the “groundbreaking” magazine edition.

“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,” she wrote in a blog post. “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.”

The first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was published in 1964. Tyra Banks became the first Black model to appear on the magazine’s cover in 1997. Ashley Graham was the first plus-size model to appear on the cover in 2016. Halima Aden was the first model to wear a hijab in the magazine’s 2019 edition. Sampaio will appear in the edition that hits newstands on July 21.

“To come from a space of fear and marginalization, to now being included in one of the most iconic magazines that truly embraces and celebrates diversity — it is life changing,” Sampaio told Harper’s Bazaar.

MJ Day, editor-in-chief of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, applauded Sampaio’s courage.

“Every woman that represents a ‘first’ does so with the understanding that with the accolades and support that accompanies that title, scrutiny and negativity also follows,” Day told Harper’s Bazaar. “The strength and resilience of her spirit and selflessness that [Sampaio] possesses must not go unrecognized. I am so proud that she chose to bring her message of hope and acceptance to us here at SI Swimsuit.”

Last year, Sampaio became the first transgender model to be hired by Victoria’s Secret. In 2017, she made history as the first transgender model to grace the cover of a Vogue magazine.

She said she is thankful to God and those who have supported her along her journey.

“As a community, each personal success is a step forward for all,” Sampaio said. “I honor the challenges of those who have paved the way for me directly or indirectly. They have made where I am today possible. I am committed to keep growing and push boundaries so that I can in some way, pave the path for others. We are here, we always have been here and we always will be.”

In a Q&A session with Sports Illustrated, Sampaio shared that her guilty pleasure is gelato, she hopes to deliver a speech to the United Nations one day and that if she could witness any event in history, it would be the Stonewall riots of 1969.

When asked about her aspirations, Sampaio said she wishes to “be seen for the person and woman that [she is] while living a meaningful life that makes a positive impact in the world beyond [her] individual self.”

See more of her interview with Sports Illustrated here.

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