Leyna Bloom Just Made History on the Cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue

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Tyra Banks and Bloom at the Sports Illustrated cover revealPhoto: Getty Images

Though the pandemic prevented the globe-hopping international travel that SI photoshoots are known for, Bloom’s set had personal significance. The Don CeSar, a fabled pink hotel in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida that was once the stomping ground of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Franklin D. Roosevelt, served as the backdrop for the images shot by Yu Tsai. “I went to that hotel with my boyfriend when I was 19, and this was my first time coming back since then,” says Bloom. “The night before was so powerful and exhilarating. I went home after my fitting, and I was crying because in a few hours I would be on the beach doing my shoot. I had to process everything, past, present, and future, to understand what this moment meant.” 

Before the shoot, Bloom and her close friend Thadeus La Day prepared for the experience by taking a trip through Sports Illustrated’s history. “I couldn’t have done this without him. If this was the Olympics, then Thaddeus was my coach,” says Bloom. “He knows everything about athletics—football, tennis, basketball, you name it—[and] he’s this flamboyant man who also understands fashion and culture. We sat down and went through old issues and YouTube, going over every single model of color, every model, period, who has done this, looking at their pictures and listening to their interviews.” On the day of the photoshoot, Bloom’s mind was on the trans and non-binary people who came before her. “I thought of all the people whose work and lives led to this moment,” she says. “Everything they went through, all the trials and tribulations, that allowed this to be possible for me. To be on the cover and represent them is a dream.” 

Upon seeing the final image, Bloom was moved, both by the beauty of the picture and the way it reflects her true personality. “It just felt so seminal yet sexy,” she says. “I wanted to be in what I was most comfortable in, so I’m in a one-piece. It’s the kind of suit Meghan Markle or Michelle Obama would wear to the beach! I wanted to be that girl ordering tacos on the beach, feeling the vibe, and not worrying about anything [because] she’s comfortable and being herself—that’s the girl I wanted to represent.” 

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