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Valentina Sampaio is first transgender Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model

Valentina Sampaio has made history by becoming the first transgender model to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, the special edition that catapulted Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Ashley Graham and Kate Upton to superstardom.

On Friday, the 23-year-old Brazilian beauty was announced as a 2020 Rookie of the Year for the upcoming issue (out July 21). In the images, Sampaio poses in a shimmering gold bandeau bikini as well as an asymmetrical white one-piece.

In a personal essay on SI Swimsuit’s website, the model thanked the publication “for seeing and respecting me as I truly am,” and “for understanding that more than anything, I am human.”

“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 US. Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds,” she wrote.

Valentina Sampaio in the 2020 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue
Valentina Sampaio in the 2020 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issueSports Illustrated

“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. I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can.”

It’s been a big year for Sampaio, who just last August was hired by Victoria’s Secret as its first-ever openly transgender model.

In 2017, she similarly made history as Vogue Paris’ first trans cover star, and later fronted Vogue Brasil and Vogue Germany as well. She’s also worked with fashion brands including Marc Jacobs, Dior and H&M.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has pushed for more diversity in its featured faces in recent years, casting Ashley Graham as its first plus-size cover girl in 2016 and Halima Aden as its first hijabi model in 2019.

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