“I was filled with so many emotions of happiness when I heard the news. The feeling was surreal,” model Valentina Sampaio, 23, told PEOPLE after she learned she was named a 2020 Rookie for the upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Valentina, a trailblazer for greater trans visibility in the media, said that this is a “dream come true on so many levels.”
“Being in SI Swim has always been on my bucket list of things to achieve in my career,” she said. “SI has been a deeply meaningful achievement. To come from a space of fear and marginalization, to now being included in one of the most iconic magazines that truly embraces and celebrates diversity — it is life-changing.” She also noted that her inclusion in the issue is a “major milestone” for both herself and the LGBTQ+ community.
“Every woman that represents a ‘first’ does so with the understanding that with the accolades and support that accompanies that title, scrutiny, and negativity also follows. The strength and resilience of her spirit and selflessness that [Sampaio] possesses must not go unrecognized,” SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day said in a statement, per PEOPLE. “I am so proud that she chose to bring her message of hope and acceptance to us here at SI Swimsuit.” As the world readies for this landmark issue, here’s what you need to know about Valentina.
1. Valentina was born in Aquiraz, Ceará, Brazil. “I was born trans in a remote, humble fishing village in northern Brazil,” she wrote in a personal essay on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s website. “Brazil is a beautiful country, but it also hosts the highest number of violent crimes and murders against the trans community in the world—three times that of the U.S.” By 8-years-old, she knew she was transgender, and Insider reports that she was going by Valentina by age 12.
“Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds. We face snickers, insults, fearful reactions, and physical violations just for existing. Our options for growing up in a loving and accepting family, having a fruitful experience at school, or finding dignified work are unimaginably limited and challenging,” she adds in her essay. “I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can.”
2. Valentina joined Victoria’s Secret in 2019. In August of last year, the lingerie brand confirmed that they had hired Valentina for their 2019 VS PINK back-to-campus campaign. This was the first time that VS hired an openly trans model, another significant milestone in Valentina’s career. The VS PINK line is often how many VS models get their start, and the campaign showcases lingerie, loungewear, and accessories perfect for your campus needs.
3. You’ve probably seen her before. By now, Valentina should be used to being a trailblazer. In 2017, she became Vogue Paris’s first trans cover model. Later, she was on the cover of Vogue Germany and Vogue Brasil. She has also worked with brands like L’Oreal, Marc Jacobs, Dior, and H&M.
4. She’s not related to Sara Sampaio. Despite their names, she is not related to Victoria’s Secret Angel Sara Sampaio. However, just like Sara, Valentina has brown hair and green eyes. Just a coincidence.
5. Valentina has goals. She loves the beach. “I spend all the time I can at the beach where I was born and raised because just being there recharges my batteries,” she told Vogue Paris. She also said she was obsessed with shoes, does yoga, loves to surf, and considers Brooke Shields to be her fashion icon. When asked what she has on her bucket list, she said: “To marry, to have a family, to have an incredible career.”