Valentina Sampaio Is Sports Illustrated’s First Transgender Swimsuit Issue Model

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Valentina Sampaio has had a history-making year. This month, she becomes the first transgender model to appear within the pages of Sports Illustrated‘s iconic swimsuit issue. Sampaio was announced as a 2020 rookie for the upcoming edition almost a year after becoming the first-ever openly transgender model at Victoria’s Secret.

In an essay for SI, an excerpt of which she shared on Instagram, Sampaio celebrated the publication for their creation of a “groundbreaking issue by bringing together a diverse set of multitalented, beautiful women in a creative and dignified way.” She also wrote about her difficult path to achieving success in her modeling career. “I was born trans in a remote, humble fishing village in northern Brazil. Brazil is a beautiful country, but it also hosts the highest number of violent crimes and murders against the trans community in the world—three times that of the U.S.,” the 23-year-old reflected.

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Sampaio, who was shot by photographer Josie Clough for the spread, added, “Being trans usually means facing closed doors to people’s 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.” Pose‘s Janet Mock and model/photographer Helena Christensen were among those to congratulate Sampaio on Instagram.

Before posing for the issue of SI (out July 21), Sampaio graced the covers of Vogue Paris, Brazil, and Germany, per Page Six. Her trailblazing career has often flown in the face of offensive attitudes towards transgender models. Case in point: during a 2018 Vogue interview, Victoria’s Secret’s then-chief marketing officer Ed Razek excluded those he referred to as “transsexuals” from participating in his brand’s fashion shows “because the show is a fantasy.” He later retired from L Brands, the label’s parent company, and the Victoria’s Secret fashion show has not taken place since.

At the time of her landmark VS hiring, Sampaio told ELLE.com via email, “This represents a victory for society, not just the trans community but for all people who are currently underrepresented in fashion. We are experiencing a moment, an evolution, and it is a positive one. Brands are finally learning and catching up to the importance of inclusivity and diversity.” She added, “It is hugely important moment not only for myself, but my community and beyond.”

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