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Mixed reviews as Sports Illustrated unveils first ever transgender model for iconic Swimsuit Issue cover

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Sports Illustrated has unveiled Leyna Bloom as the first-ever transgender model to feature on the cover of its iconic Swimsuit Issue, meeting with mixed reviews, while tennis star Naomi Osaka also graces one version of the cover.

Raised in Chicago’s South Side, Bloom first became interested in a future in fashion through a grandmother who taught runway classes in the area.

“This is my bloodline, this is my ancestry, this is where I come from,” explained Bloom to Page Six Style, while also telling of the inspiration to one day feature in the bikini bible when seeing Tyra Banks on its front cover in 1997.

“When they told me I got the cover, I spoke to my dad,” Bloom revealed.

“I was like, ‘When I was looking at that magazine … I was looking into my future. You were giving me the tools I needed to see myself, to know that I could be there, that I could inspire, that one day I could be a part of this.'”

Bloom’s career began after a move to New York City at the age of 17 and a chance encounter in a Soho store that led to a Vogue India appearance, campaigns for the likes of H&M and Levi’s, and a Tommy Hilfiger runway gig alongside TV and movie star Zendaya.

“Being a person of trans experience growing up in the world, there was no representation of that [in fashion], so I felt like I could never do this,” Bloom said.

“I think it [was] just putting myself out there, knowing that I was born in a world I didn’t fit in, so I have to create one that I do. I just wanted to be seen in the world and let people know that people like me do exist and we are beautiful.”

But while Bloom was dubbed an “icon” in some corners, not everyone shared the same enthusiasm.

“It should state: ‘Transgender Issue; on the cover. No surprises, never mind, too late!” remarked one onlooker.

“Welcome to Bizarro world!” said another, in reference to the fictional, reverse, alternative reality from Superman comics. “We have fallen so far.”

“It’s not for me but maybe others like that sort of thing,” said a less offended party.

Feeling that attention was being taken away from other issues, it was also said: “I get it’s a milestone for the trans community and an SI first but are [they] burying the lead or at least co-lead if we gloss over the fact the article says this is the first solo Black cover model?”

“That’s…..uh… not good.”

Bloom is one of three different black cover stars alongside rapper Megan Thee Stallion and tennis sensation Naomi Osaka. 

Rather than bring race into it, however, former world number one Osaka, who has claimed to have received racist backlash following her decision to represent her East Asian birthland in the upcoming Olympics, celebrated her feat as the “First Haitian and Japanese woman on the cover”.

“I’ve been playing under the Japan flag since I was 14. It was never even a secret that I’m going to play for Japan [in] the Olympics,” she said during an upcoming episode of her self-titled Netflix docuseries.

“So I don’t choose America, and suddenly people are like, ‘Your Black card is revoked,’” reveals Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open and Wimbledon recently citing mental health concerns. 

“And it’s like, African-American isn’t the only Black, you know? I don’t know, I feel like people don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian.”

Osaka’s Sports Illustrated cover was generally well received and saw her, like Bloom, dubbed an “icon” and “insanely gorgeous”.

Although the cover shoot was decided months in advance, some still doubted why Osaka would do such a thing when “Haiti is burning”, after president Jovenel Moise was assassinated last week and her father’s homeland was thrust into a political and social crisis.

A fellow naysayer remarked: “Glad your anxiety lets you pose in a bathing suit for millions to see..” along an eye-rolling emoji. 

Singing her praises however, SI’s Swimsuit issue editor-in-chief said in a statement: “There’s no question that Naomi is one of the best athletes in the world, and a cover spot felt obvious.

“She’s spent her formative years racking up titles and is headed to the Olympics.

“But we celebrate Naomi for her passion, strength and power geared towards consistently breaking barriers when it comes to equality, social justice, and mental health.”





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