ENTERTAINMENT

Meet Sports Illustrated's First Black, Asian Transgender Swimsuit Model

Leyna Bloom is honored to be “a representation of all the communities I grew from” as she breaks barriers in the fashion industry.

After successfully pushing for diversity on runways and in fashion spreads, Leyna Bloom is back to smash yet another barrier.  

The Chicago native is featured in the pages of Sports Illustrated’s 2021 Swimsuit Issue, becoming the first Black, Asian transgender model to appear in the magazine. She follows Valentina Sampaio, who last year became Sports Illustrated’s first transgender swimsuit model. 

In a short essay announcing Bloom’s appearance in the magazine, editor MJ Day praised the Black and Filipino model for having “an undeniable sense of self that shines through the minute she walks on set.”  

“We are honored to have her in this year’s issue and understand the effect it will have on so many others,” Day wrote. “She joins our team, not because of what she represents but because of her beauty, commitment and desire to leave the world a better place.” 

Bloom, meanwhile, also emphasized the milestone.  

“This is what it looks like to be in full bloom,” she wrote on Instagram. “This moment is bigger than my wildest infinite dreams. In this moment, I am a representation of all the communities I grew from, and all the communities I’m planting seeds in.”

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue pictorial is perhaps Bloom’s most high-profile achievement, but her career has been on the rise for some time. In 2017, she became one of the first openly transgender models on the runway at New York Fashion Week. She made her acting debut in Danielle Lessovitz’s “Port Authority,” which premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Earlier this year, she appeared in a Levi’s campaign that also featured Naomi Osaka. 

Fulfilling those dreams, however, hasn’t come easy. Among those not especially versed in fashion, Bloom is best known for launching a viral social media campaign urging Victoria’s Secret to hire her for its runway show and, in doing so, make her the brand’s first transgender model of color. She wasn’t successful. 

She’s also been candid about the personal struggles she faced along the way. As a child, she was raped, and also experienced periods of homelessness throughout her early life. 

Speaking to HuffPost in 2018, Bloom said she was determined to use her visibility and voice to bring about real change in the fashion industry. 

“We’re not in that time zone anymore that if you speak up you get blacklisted. Everyone can speak up,” she said. “We need more people out here saying this is what I want and deserve. Respect me, don’t fetishize me, protect me. I think that’s where it starts.”