Leyna Bloom Just Made History on the Cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue

“This moment represents that we’re going into the future, and this is what the future looks like,” Bloom tells Vogue.

Every year the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue releases to considerable fanfare, but 2021’s edition is something special. Each of its three covers spotlights an inspiring woman. Tennis champion Naomi Osaka represents groundbreaking athletes, hip hop star Megan Thee Stallion continues her pop culture dominance by snagging her first SI appearance, and model-actor Leyna Bloom shines in an ivory one piece. The latter is making history. As the first trans person to land on the front page of SI’s annual special issue, Bloom is breaking new ground, a fact she’s well aware of. “We all know that the world [right now] is in this compassionate space of transformation. Any woman of color being on the cover of this magazine means that the world is evolving, and I’m part of that evolution process,” shared Bloom on the phone from Los Angeles. “This moment represents that we’re going into the future, and this is what the future looks like.” 

The achievement is something Bloom never imagined for herself. “When I was in the model apartments, getting a SI cover was what my roommates dreamed about [because] it’s the Olympics of modeling,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting it to happen to me; I didn’t think it was possible.” Still, growing up, Bloom followed the casting process each year, and seeing women like Tyra Banks and Beyoncé Knowles—the first African American star and first non-model or athlete to land on the swimsuit issue’s  cover, respectively—seize their moments in the spotlight was inspiring. “I was one of those people who would follow the castings, [and] the way the girls trained and prepared for their shoots,” says Bloom. “You’d see how surprised and grateful they were to have this. I even remember the first time I saw Tyra’s cover in 1997, because my dad had the copy. Our family celebrated those milestones in Black entertainment.” 

Bloom’s journey to the cover began when she met Sports Illustrated’s Editor-in-Chief MJ Day in the summer of 2020. After her agents at CAA connected her with Day and her team, the pair sat down for a conversation about modeling for SI that touched on everything from social justice to self-acceptance. “We spoke for about two hours but we didn’t talk about the magazine,” says Bloom. “We talked about space, motherhood, the power of bodies, activism, issues within our bodies that we’ve grown to appreciate and accept. It wasn’t the cliché conversation of ‘make sure you diet.’ It was real and human, totally not what I was expecting, but more than I could have dreamed.” Day’s inclusive vision for the magazine is part of what drew Bloom in. “MJ is truly an angel; she represents love, light, and inspiration,” says Bloom. “She isn’t just looking for a perfect model. She wants people from different backgrounds with different stories to tell, of all sizes, shapes, and from all walks of life. She embraced me and embraced each girl who dared to share their story, put on a swimsuit, and say ‘I am beautiful.’” 

This story originally appeared on: Vogue - Author:Janelle Okwodu