The 2021 Sports Illustrated (SI) Swimsuit issue is here—and one of its cover stars, Leyna Bloom, is breaking barriers.
“[I] am so happy, honored, and humbled to share that I’m the 1st trans woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated [Swimsuit],” the 27-year-old model announced in an Instagram post on Monday.
The magazine’s swimsuit issue has been released annually since 1964, but this year marks the first time that there’s been a transgender cover model and the first time that a trans person of color has appeared within an issue, according to SI Swimsuit.
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“I have dreamt a million beautiful dreams, but for girls like me, most dreams are just fanciful hopes in a world that often erases and omits our history and even existence,” Bloom wrote in her Instagram caption. “This moment is so powerful because it allows me to live forever even after my physical form is gone. Not a lot of people get to live in the future, so at this moment, I’m proudly choosing to live forever.”
“I dedicate this cover to all ballroom femme queens past, present and future,” continued Bloom, who first gained recognition in the ballroom dance community. “This historical moment is important to #girlslikeus because it allows us to live and be seen. Many girls like us don’t have the chance to live our dreams, or to live long at all. I hope my cover empowers those, who are struggling to be seen, feel valued. Let me be a messenger guiding us to a future of respect and appreciation for all women in all forms and from all walks of life.”
Bloom even had other trans folks in mind when she was choosing what swimsuits to wear in the issue. During her SI Swimsuit photoshoot, the model had her pick of hundreds of bathing suits, selecting leotard-like one-pieces rather than bikinis, as Page Six Style reported. “Trans women feel so comfortable in these one-pieces, so I want to represent them,” she explained.
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People on social media have been celebrating Bloom and the history-making cover. That includes within the comments section of Bloom’s Instagram announcement post. “I have never been more in awe of someone. You are grace personified. I love you sweet angel. Congratulations. Thank you for being YOU,” SI Swimsuit Editor-in-Chief MJ Day wrote. “Absolutely Iconic and so well deserved!!!!!!,” fellow SI model Brooks Nader commented. GLAAD showed its support by putting a clapping hands emoji.
Yu Tsai, the photographer who captured the images, pointed out the significance of the cover not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but also for the Asian Black community, which Bloom is a part of. “🌈🌈🌈 What an amazing moment for our community of LGBTQ+ and Asian black community,” Tsai commented on her post. “I celebrate you with our community and thank you @si_swimsuit @mj_day for giving us this important representation and continuously fighting for inclusion and diversity!”
But Bloom wasn’t the only cover star to make history this year. SI had three covers in all, and the other two were also firsts. Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old tennis champion, is also a 2021 cover star, making her the first female Black athlete on an SI Swimsuit cover (and, as Osaka tweeted, the first Haitian and Japanese woman on the cover). Meanwhile, 26-year-old singer Megan Thee Stallion is the first rapper to appear on the cover of the issue (“When Hottie boot camp pays off,” she tweeted, referencing her fitness routine, which Health has previously reported on).
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“If there’s one thing that our cover models have in common, it’s that they don’t have one thing in common,” Day said in SI. “They look different, have different upbringings, have different passions and inspirations. But each is a reminder that beauty comes in many forms.”
As for her part in the trio of groundbreaking women to be on the cover of this year’s SI Swimsuit edition, Bloom says she is aware of the responsibility—that is, the responsibility that comes with being the first openly trans model not just on the cover of SI Swimsuit, but also for many brands and publications. “It allows me to give justice and give light to my community, and I’m glad that I was birthed in those communities because when I go out in the world, they also shine,” she said in a Q&A with SI Swimsuit. “It’s a powerful thing to know that we are in a time where history is still possible to be made. I think it’s a powerful moment. I never imagined growing up, and the name that I have chosen for myself and the body that I have designed of myself will allow me to bring awareness to the idea of someone creating their own life for themselves. It’s not what the world said I should be or how I should look, or how I should live my life. It’s allowed me to inspire others to love the creation they have created.”
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