Valentina Sampaio is a 23-year-old Brazilian model who is the first transgender woman to grace the pages of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, which will be on newsstands on July 21.
While it’s not Sampaio’s first major magazine appearance, it is a first for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, a publication with a largely male audience. But the magazine is known for pushing the bounds of conventional ideas of what a beautiful woman is supposed to look like.
MJ Day, the editor of the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue said in 2019, “Men and women know there is no one ‘ideal’ beauty, yet we never saw the diversity that makes beauty so exciting and captivating showcased. Liberating men and women from those narrow beauty confines is something I’m very proud SI Swimsuit is a part of,” BizBash reported.
This year, Day said Sampaio “had been on her radar for some time and that she had noticed her passion for activism, calling the Sports Illustrated rookie a ‘true pioneer for the LGBT+ community,’” according to the NY Times.
Day told Vogue, “Our goal in selecting who we feature is centered around identifying some of the most inspiring, interesting, and multidimensional women that we can find,” she said. “We are deeply moved that Valentina was willing to put her trust in us. We didn’t think twice about wanting to amplify her voice and message and give her a platform to advocate from on behalf of her personal aspirations and the trans community.”
Sampaio told GLAAD that being the first trans model to be in the iconic magazine is a “deeply meaningful achievement.”
Here is what you need to know:
1. Sampaio Advocates for LGTBQ Rights & Acceptance, Especially in Brazil Where She Says It Is Unsafe for Trans People
In Sampaio’s GLAAD interview which was done remotely from her home country she said, “Here in Brazil, I don’t feel 100% safe. We are being shamed, beaten and killed every day in Brazil.”
Brazil has the highest number of trans people murdered in the world, according to Trans Murder Monitoring Project.
“Last year alone, we witnessed the brutal killing of 129 transgender people [in Brazil], Sampaio told Vogue. Our protection comes from God. Even with the new laws, people don’t widely respect and comply with them, and the authorities aren’t enforcing them either.”
“We have never had a respectful place in society,” Sampaio said. “Much like in the United States and across the globe, transgender people in Brazil are marginalized. We are seen as immoral and labeled as ‘something’ perverted, widely insulted, publicly beaten, and in some cases murdered.”
2. Sampaio Has Been a Trailblazer for Trans Models & Was on the Cover of Vogue in 2017
Sampaio has been on multiple magazine covers worldwide, becoming the first trans woman to be on the cover of French Vogue in 2017. She was also the first openly trans model to be hired by Victoria Secret in 2018, according to Forbes.
Sampaio also became L’Oréal Paris’ first transgender model when she was hired as one of the company’s brand ambassadors in 2017, but before that, in 2016 the company shared Sampaio’s story when she got her new i.d as Valentina for the first time on International Women’s Day.
In the video, Sampaio says it was her first “official” women’s day as she was shown putting on make-up and doing her hair ahead of the photo for her new identification as a woman.
Sampaio said during her recent interview with GLAAD, “All trans people should believe that they can achieve anything they want to achieve — any profession.”
3. Sampaio Thanked Sports Illustrated for ‘Understanding That More Than Anything, I Am Human’
The long-legged model wrote a personal essay for S.I. expressing her feelings about being chosen to be one of the rookie models this year, saying she is “honored and excited.”
Sampaio also shared that she realized she was one of the lucky ones in the trans community and thanked the magazine for the chance to spread a “message of love, compassion and unity for all.
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.
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.
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.
4. Sports Illustrated Has Broken Other Barriers in the Last Few Years With Its Choice of Model
According to the NY Times, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues in recent years have put women on the cover that had not traditionally been featured. The magazine put its first plus-sized model on the cover in 2016 with Ashley Graham, who is a size 16.
In 2019 the magazine “featured the Somali-American model Halima Aden, who was the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the magazine.
In the 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Show in Miami, models included a fitness instructor with alopecia, a 55-year-old, and a former dancer who is now wheelchair-bound, according to BizBash.
5. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Has Been in Publication Since 1964 & Critics Say It Still Objectifies Women
An organization called End Sexual Exploitation said in 2019 that just because the magazine uses a variety of types of women in its swimsuit issues it doesn’t “sanitize” the way they exploit women.
“Hijab and burkini model gimmicks notwithstanding, the 2019 Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue carries on in its sexist and repugnant tradition of normalizing and profiting from the sexual objectification of women,” the organization said.
According to a statement from Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “With its 2019 Swimsuit Issue, SI sinks to a new low in its crass exploitation of cultural diversity.”
In 2015 the magazine’s cover drew criticism for being too racy. A photo of 24-year-old Hannah Davis with her bikini bottoms pulled extremely low met the ire of some who thought it was inappropriate for newsstands. According to Business Insider, results from a UsWeekly poll, showed that “68% of readers thought the cover image resembled porn, while 38% found it ‘so hot!'”
People are giving mixed reviews to the news of Sampaio’s cover, as she points out, many people still are not accepting of trans people. While some point out her beauty, others cling to the idea of her as male.
But Sampaio said on an Instagram post, “I feel strong, and I feel inspired to fight, not just for me but for everyone who faces discrimination.”