Trans Model Leyna Bloom Cried Into Tyra's Arms When She Saw Her Sports Illustrated Cover: "This Is a Huge Milestone"
Leyna Bloom, the first Black, Asian trans model to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual Swim issue, was waiting for her coffee to arrive when I jumped on the phone with her — not that she needed the caffeine. She'd already had quite an exciting morning. Leyna's team told her she was going to meet up with fellow SI rookies and vets to celebrate the release of the 2021 magazine, which she was just grateful to be featured in. But when she showed up on set, the vibe was different than she expected. For one, Tyra Banks was there to conduct her interview.
"Everything I went through from the moment I was born — all the trials and tribulations up to this point — just flashed before my eyes."
"I was like, where are the other girls at? I want to see my sisters. I sit down, I meet Tyra, and I'm in tears, obviously. I tell her I'm excited to just be in the pages — to see my number at the bottom and say, 'I'm on page this-number.' Then, here comes MJ [Day, editor of SI Swim] holding an iPad with my photo on it. I'm like, 'IS THAT MY COVER!?' It was so surreal to me. Everything I went through from the moment I was born — all the trials and tribulations up to this point — just flashed before my eyes. There are no words to captivate how I feel or how anyone would feel — especially someone like me, because this has literally never happened to anyone like me on the face of the earth. I want to bask in this moment and enjoy July 19, 2021, because today will be a historical day in history."
Leyna joins Megan Thee Stallion and Naomi Osaka on the 58th installment of this major magazine that has transformed throughout the years and fostered a diverse community rooted in self-love and acceptance. Valentina Sampaio was the first transgender model to grace the pages in 2020, and Halima Aden memorably made history as the first hijab-wearing model. There's certainly a long way to go, but it's getting easier to feel the forward momentum toward representation.
"This moment is a leap into the future of what we are capable of doing, seeing, and taking time to think about."
"This is a huge milestone. When I was crying in MJ and Tyra's arms, I was like, 'This magazine is going to change the world.' Every few years, we step into our future and the evolution of humanity. This moment is a leap into the future of what we are capable of doing, seeing, and taking time to think about. I'm just lucky that I was born into a time where I see the world shifting into this period of inclusivity," Leyna says, continuing, "but I have to look at the women who stand next to me and are coming up behind me. You are only as good as the people standing next to you. We're entrepreneurs, mothers, models, rookies, and returning contestants representing all different types of people from around the world that come from different walks of life. And we all have something to say. Not only are we beautiful, but we're intelligent. We have personalities, and we're powerful — and that is something to celebrate."
Leyna still remembers when the crew first arrived on the beach for her shoot. She was wearing a yellow swimsuit during that moment, though the white wrap-front maillot by Gil Rodriguez, a slow fashion brand, and jewelry by SOKO, a women-led brand that connects with artisans in Kenya, made the cover. "Someone started playing music, and I started dancing around. I was manifesting this moment full of happiness. I remember MJ seeing me and saying, 'Do you see this girl? This is what you call a star. She's here, and she's bringing positive vibrations. It's going to be a beautiful day.' And that beautiful day turned into a beautiful cover."
Leyna Bloom walking for Chromat's spring/summer 2020 show in 2019.
Leyna chooses the brands she works with carefully, and like Sports Illustrated, "Chromat is a brand that gave me the chance to be seen back in 2014 when I started walking in the show. That brand represents exactly what this magazine represents: exclusive women having exclusive stories and representing equality, powerful voices, and strength," she tells POPSUGAR.
"I have to tell every single person that has a dream to go deep inside themselves and learn about who that person is."
"Another brand that I love is Rosina Mae, who is also an ethical designer and happens to be my best friend. The world is changing, and you have to understand the value of what you're wearing. You have to understand what it takes to start sewing and what that process is like. I think it's important to have a magazine where swimsuits are worn that represent those things in the world. It's about understanding the climate, community, and environment," Leyna says.
As for what she'd say to up-and-coming models who are going to be affected and empowered by this cover — along with all of Leyna's accomplishments as a trans woman of color in the modeling industry — the advice is simple. "I have to tell every single person that has a dream to go deep inside themselves and learn about who that person is. Understand that when you come out of that experience and go out into the world, those are the moments that really define you and add puzzle pieces to who you are. That's why you're unique. Surround yourself with people that love you and love yourself."
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue hits newsstands July 22.