Leyna Bloom says she was raped as a child, sexually fetishized her entire life and forced to hide who she really was. Now, she’s the first transgender woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, celebrated as “a symbol of beauty.”
“This moment heals a lot of pain in the world. We deserve this moment,” Bloom said on Instagram. “… 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.”
Last month, Bloom told Variety that before coming out seven years ago, she was terrified people would discover she was transgender. She hid her identity because she believed the world wasn’t ready and that someone might attack her.
“They see how you move, they see your magic [and] they want to hurt you,” she said.
But in 2014, Bloom announced herself to the world by modeling for a magazine shoot featuring her and other trans women. Since then, she became one of the first openly trans women to walk the runway at Paris Fashion Week, Sports Illustrated said on its website.
Other milestones followed: She was the first trans woman of color on the cover of Vogue India and the first trans woman of color to star in a movie at the Cannes Film Festival — “Port Authority,” a Martin Scorsese-produced tale about a fresh-off-the-bus cisgender man who stumbles into New York City’s queer ballroom scene and falls in love with Bloom’s character. Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated announced Bloom would be the first trans woman of color modeling in the magazine’s swimsuit issue, although the revelation about the cover would take four more months.
Having a trans woman held up as a symbol of beauty alongside past participants such as Tyra Banks, Gisele Bündchen and Heidi Klum shows things are changing, Bloom told Variety.
“I think it’s just a powerful time right now,” Bloom told Variety. “I’m so happy Sports Illustrated wanted to have the nerve to really say, ‘We got to have this moment, and if you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else.’ ”
Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue — once described in a 1998 Washington Post article as “mainstream, middlebrow … middle American” and little more than “a volume of cheesecake portraiture” — has tried in recent years to stay abreast of an ever-changing social landscape.
In 2018, the issue’s creators reacted to the #MeToo era with a photo shoot in which women crafted their own messages with carefully chosen words written on their naked bodies or clothing. In 2019, the issue for the first time featured a model wearing a hijab and burkini. Last year, a 56-year-old woman graced the pages.
“That’s the great thing about Sports Illustrated is they just keep reinventing themselves and they keep reinventing what is your view of beauty,” Kathy Jacobs, the 56-year-old woman, told the AP. “And they keep showing people that there’s more than one kind of beauty out there.”
Bloom, a transgender woman who’s Black and Filipina, is now part of that representation.
In March, a New York Times reporter asked Bloom if being in the swimsuit issue was the best way for people to learn that you can be respected, appreciated and loved no matter your body shape, sexuality or skin color.
“It’s one way,” she responded. “This is a way of reaching the top of the food chain. Let’s at least have this moment and say that we had it, and then we can go on to dismantle it.”
But, Bloom added, beauty standards that aren’t easy to shatter can be made more inclusive. “Up to now, it was strictly, ‘Oh, you’re trans so you cannot be a princess.’ But when we’re seen in these spaces — the runways, the magazines — trans children can look up and say, ‘This is what a princess looks like to me.’ ”
Bloom said she thinks of herself as “a third sex” and that as she’s gotten older, she’s become more in tune with both her masculine and feminine energies. That wasn’t easy, she told The Times. She said she was raped as a child and fetishized as an adult, so the life of a princess didn’t always seem attainable.
“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 said Monday on Instagram.
Not hers. Millions of people will see the Sports Illustrated cover not just when it hits newsstands in a couple of days, but years and decades from now, long after her “physical form is gone,” she said. Even after she dies, they’ll see a Black, Filipina trans woman kneeling in the sand and being celebrated for her beauty.
“Not a lot of people get to live in the future,” she said Monday. “So at this moment, I’m proudly choosing to live forever.”