Valentina Sampaio Becomes First Transgender Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Model

by : Julia Banim on : 11 Jul 2020 13:23
Valentina Sampaio Becomes First Transgender Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue ModelValentina Sampaio Becomes First Transgender Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue ModelSports Illustrated

Brazilian model and actor Valentina Sampaio has just become the first ever transgender model to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

The publication has run the swimsuit issue for 56 years, previously featuring the likes of Kate Upton, Elle Macpherson and Heidi Klum.


In recent years, Sports Illustrated has worked to improve diversity within this iconic issue, with plus-sized model Hunter McGrady gracing the pages of the 2019 shoot. The 2019 cohort also included Halima Aden, who became the first swimsuit model to be photographed wearing a hijab and burkini.


Now Valentina, 23, has joined the ranks of these icons of fashion and style while paving the way for other transgender women in the modelling industry.

Named as one of the eight Swimsuit 2020 Rookies, Valentina spoke about what this shoot meant to her in a moving personal essay for the publication:


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.

As per 2017 figures from the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (Antra), a trans person is murdered every 48 hours in Brazil. In 94% of cases, the murder victims were trans women.

Valentina has used her high profile platform to draw attention to such issues, regularly shedding light on the issues affecting trans people across the world every single day.


During an interview with Sport Illustrated, Valentina offered a little insight into the person behind the photographs, opening up about some of the challenges she has previously faced as a trans woman in the modelling industry.

Recalling one hurtful incident, Valentina revealed how she was sacked from her first ever professional modelling job while on set, mere minutes before shooting:

I was told that the client felt it was ‘inappropriate’ for me to represent the brand because my images would be included in a catalog ‘entering into family households’.

They made me feel as though it would be seen as immoral and scandalous for me to be a brand ambassador for them.

It was heartbreaking for me on many levels as well as embarrassing because I had excitedly shared the happy news with my university friends and colleagues when the client first confirmed me for the job.

This isn’t the first time Valentina has broken through boundaries in the world of modelling. She became Victoria’s Secret’s first openly transgender model in August 2019, and was also the very first trans woman to appear on the cover of Vogue Paris back in 2017.


This year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which also features Brooks Nader, Josephine Skriver, Lorena Duran, Kim Riekenberg, Marquita Pring, Anita Marshall and Hyunjoo Hwang, will be available to buy from newsstands from July 21.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Fashion, Brazil, transgender


Sports Illustrated and 3 others
  1. Sports Illustrated

    SI Swimsuit 2020 Rookie: Valentina Sampaio

  2. Sports Illustrated

    Valentina Sampaio: In Her Own Words

  3. Valentina Sampaio/Instagram


  4. National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals

    Number of murders of transvestites and transsexuals is the highest in 10 years in Brazil