If “hot girl summer” was a magazine cover...well, now it is, thanks to Sports Illustrated having the profound wisdom to make thee hot girl herself, Megan Thee Stallion, one of its 2021 cover stars. In fact, it’s a woman of color trifecta this round, as Meg joins tennis star Naomi Osaka and model-actress Leyna Bloom—who made history just this past spring as the first Black and Asian transgender woman to be featured in Sports Illustrated—on a trio of stunning, sunlit covers.
“If there’s one thing that our cover models have in common, it’s that they don’t have one thing in common,” said SI Swimsuit Editor MJ Day in a statement obtained by USA Today. “They look different, have different upbringings, have different passions and inspirations. But each is a reminder that beauty comes in many forms.”
“REAL SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT EDITION COVER MODEL SHIT!!! 😛🔥” Meg posted on Instagram Monday morning, adding: “Thee first female rapper on the cover of @si_swimsuit 😭😭 I want to thank all the strong women in my life who inspired me to love my body and live my best hot girl life. It means the world to me to be on this cover DREAM COME TRUE!! 😛”
Naomi Osaka’s doing double duty on covers this month, as she also tops Vogue Hong Kong in a pair of stunning racket-inspired earrings. Of her historic appearance on SI—unbelievably the first Black female athlete to garner a cover appearance—the magazine captioned a post:
From hitting 100 mph serves to posing for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, @NaomiOsaka can DO. IT. ALL. A determined athlete, Naomi has her sights set on ✨ gold ✨ at the upcoming games in Tokyo and we’re cheering her on every step of the way. 🥇 Thank you for being a part of our cover shoot this past spring!
However, Osaka’s sojourn to the Olympics hasn’t been without controversy; particularly from those who think the phenom should be repping the United States as a Black woman, rather than equally honoring her Japanese heritage by playing for the country of her mother’s birth, as well as her own. (Born in Osaka, Japan, Osaka relinquished her American citizenship in 2019, complying with Japan’s law that requires dual citizenship holders to choose a nationality by age 22.) But despite Osaka’s increasing outspokenness and advocacy for Black lives, it seems some of that rebuke has come from within the Black community.
“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 for the Olympics,” she reminded us during an episode of her recently debuted three-part docuseries on Netflix.
“So I don’t choose America and suddenly people are like, ‘Your Black card is revoked—and it’s like, African American isn’t the only Black, you know? ’” she continued, turning what has undoubtedly been a painful backlash into a teachable moment. “I don’t know, I feel like people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian,” she added.
Also Black and Asian is SI’s third 2021 cover star, Leyna Bloom—but that’s only part of what makes her cover appearance so significant. After becoming the first trans woman of color to grace SI’s pages in March (preceded less than a year by Valentina Sampaio, the first openly transgender woman to be featured in SI), 2021 The Glow Up 50 honoree Bloom is now the first trans woman to be granted a cover.
“Serving you face on the cover of our #SISwim21 issue. @LeynaBloom is making it known that she has ARRIVED,” SI captioned its Instagram announcement. “We’re giving tens... tens... tens... across the board for her stunning cover.”
Those “tens” were in reference to Bloom’s prominence in ballroom culture—which she recently revisited as a guest star on the final season of Pose. The model-actress first came to national attention as one of the few openly transgender models to walk New York Fashion Week in 2017, subsequently became the first openly transgender model to cover Vogue India, and last made history as the first trans woman of color to star in movie premiering at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
“This is what it looks like to be in full bloom,” the Chicago native posted on Instagram following her first SI appearance. “My spirit has reached new levels. 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.”
Having achieved yet another so-called mainstream milestone in the SI cover, Bloom once again emphasized that the moment is so much bigger than her own personal triumph in a Monday morning Instagram post.
“This moment heals [a lot] of pain in the world,” Bloom wrote. “We deserve this moment and we have waited millions of years to show up as survivors and be seen as full humans filled with wonder.
“[I] am so happy, honored, and humbled to share that I’m the 1st trans woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated!” she continued. “Thanks so much [MJ Day] and [the SI Swimsuit] team for recognizing the importance of representation, this is all of our responsibility...To my bloodline my father, thank you for the courage and sacrifices you made to [ensure] I stand tall In every step I take. Now I’m flying🕊”