Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio continues to break barriers in the modeling industry as she becomes the first transgender woman to be featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
What We Know:
- In a personal essay on the magazine’s website, Sampaio, a 23-year-old Brazilian model, said she was honored to be in the publication. “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 wrote.
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I am excited and honored to be part of the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. 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. 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. 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. 💜🧡💛❤️💚
- While Sampaio’s inclusion in this year’s swimsuit edition has made history, it’s not a first for her. In 2019 she became Victoria Secret’s first openly transgender model and was hired for catalog work for Victoria Secret’s athletic line Pink. In 2017, Sampaio was also the first transgender model to grace the cover of a Vogue edition.
- Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue has had a number of breakthrough moments striving for the inclusion of all women. The magazine put Ashley Graham, its first size 16 model, on the cover in 2016. Last year, it featured the Somali-American model Halima Aden, who was the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the magazine.
- MJ Day, the editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, said in a statement that Sampaio had been on her radar for some time and that she had noticed her passion for activism, calling her a “true pioneer for the LGBT+ community” embodying “the well-rounded woman we are proud to have represent SI Swimsuit across our platforms”.
- Her inclusion in this year’s swimsuit issue comes amid a push for greater transgender visibility, acceptance, and rights. In the United States, lawmakers in more than two dozen states, as well as at the federal level, have introduced measures that would take away transgender rights.
- Sampaio, who’s from a fishing village in northern Brazil, has been using her platform to fight for transgender rights. She explains that the beauty of her home country is contrasted by brutal crimes against the transgender community. In a previous interview with Vogue, she pointed out that in 2019, 129 transgender people were murdered in Brazil. “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,” Sampaio said.
- Transgender women have long been a target of violence, and Black transgender women, in particular, are killed at an alarmingly high rate. In 2019, 91 percent of the transgender or gender-nonconforming people who were fatally shot were Black women, according to the Human Rights Campaign. So far this year, there have been at least 21 murders of transgender people, 2 in the month of July alone. The average life expectancy for a transgender woman of color is 35-years-old.
- Sampaio sees her platform on Sports Illustrated as a way to bring greater exposure to the challenges facing transgender individuals. “Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds,” she said. “We face snickers, insults, fearful reactions, and physical violations just for existing.” Adding, “I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can. What unites us as humans is that we all share the common desire to be accepted and loved for who we are.”
- Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has been criticized in the past for its sexualization ad objectification of women. Despite their attempts at inclusion and diversity, many critics argue that the magazine’s approach is a mere effort of tokenism intended to distract from the troubling aspects of promoting revealing photos of women.
- Sampaio has a different reaction to the magazine’s inclusive approach to representing beauty, concluding her personal essay with gratitude. She writes, “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.”
Sampaio is one of eight Rookies, or newcomers to the magazine, that will be featured in this year’s iconic edition. The magazine is set to hit stands later this month. We congratulate Sampaio on this major accomplishment!