Okay, so she’s just another pretty face in the world of modeling, right? Well, not really. This pretty face may be on the body of a young woman from Brazil, who stands at five-foot-nine, with a 25-inch waist and 33-inch bust. But this young woman was once a young boy.
Meet Valentina Sampaio, who made history by becoming Victoria’s Secret’s first transgender 22-year-old model. Surprised? Curious? You’re in the right place. Let’s find out some more about the new rising star.
Some Remarks Were Made
Lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret became the talk of the town last year when Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek made transphobic comments in a Vogue interview. He and Vice President of public relations, Monica Mitro, were asked whether VS was putting more emphasis on diversity.
Razek responded by saying, “Does the brand think about diversity? Yes. Do we offer larger sizes? Yes… Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should.” He said that the fashion show is one-of-a-kind, and “did not market to the whole world.”
He Went Further
Razek went on to explain why he thinks trans models shouldn’t be in the fashion show. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy, It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors that are carping at us. And they carp at us because we’re the leader.”
Following the backlash that Razek and VS received, trans influencer and beauty brand owner Nikita Dragun gave a public response, mocking Victoria’s Secret ad and tweeting the 35-second video. “Dear Victoria’s Secret, you said trans women can’t sell the ‘fantasy,’ so here I am as a trans woman selling the fantasy,” she stated in her video.
Here Comes the Apology…
Now, you’ve probably noticed in today’s media-centric and overly careful world, with every remark comes to an apology, and Razek is by no means any exception. The CMO decided to (perhaps even forced to) retract his statement and has issued an official apology.
“My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show came across as insensitive. I apologize.” He continued to say in his public statement on Twitter that it was never about gender. “To be clear, we absolutely would cast a transgender model in our show. We’ve had transgender models come to castings… And like many others, they didn’t make it.”
Victoria’s Secret Has a Long Way to Go
Even though Razek apologized for his words and what they mean, Victoria’s Secret hasn’t really shown much effort to be more inclusive of transgender models. That is until now. The hugely popular VS fashion show, which happens every November, is known for lacking diversity.
While the brand does have a range of sizes, there are no plus-sized runway “Angels.” And this is something that models Ashley Graham and Chrissy Teigen, in particular, has made a point to be vocal about.
She Always Felt Like a Girl
Valentina Sampaio was born on December 10, 1996, in in a fishing village in Aquiraz, Ceará, in Northeastern Brazil. Her father is a fisherman, and her mother is a schoolteacher. According to Valentina, her psychologist identified her as transgender at 8 years of age.
But it wasn’t until she turned 12 that she decided to start calling herself Valentina. She has said, “I always felt like a girl.” But if you’re wondering what her name was before, we won’t know (at least for the time being) because she chooses not to reveal what her name was before she chose Valentina or when she transitioned.
An Early and Gradual Transition
Contrary to what you may be thinking, Sampaio has mentioned in interviews that she wasn’t ever bullied for her gender identification. According to a 2017 New York Times profile of Sampaio, her parents “were always supportive and are very proud” of her.
Sampaio said that her classmates were also very accepting. She said that “they already saw me as a little girl.” So to those around her, nothing really changed. Different from other gender transitions that people do in their 20s or 30s, Sampaio’s was early and gradual.
Starting a New Life
Valentina underwent gender swap surgery and became a young woman with long legs, lush brunette hair, and sharp facial features. Let’s just put it out there – you would never have guessed that this person was born a male!
Sampaio originally studied architecture in Fortaleza, but she chose to drop out at 16 to study at a fashion college instead. And it was there that a makeup artist discovered her.
She Was Discovered By a Makeup Artist
According to the New York Times, Sampaio was discovered by a makeup artist when she was a fashion student in Brazil. Sampaio then signed with a modeling agency in Sao Paulo.
She went on to appear on the covers of French Vogue, Elle Mexico, Vanity Fair, Vogue Brasil, Elle Brasil, Italia, and L’Officiel Turkiye, among some others. But don’t think that she wasn’t faced with setbacks.
Facing Hurdles Was to Be Expected
In 2014, a clothing company (which hasn’t been disclosed) fired her from her first modeling job after discovering her transgender identification. While she was supposed to be in one of the company’s ad campaigns, they told her that it wasn’t going to happen.
They told her the brand was conservative and clients would not be receptive to a transgender model. Despite this early hurdle at the beginning of her career, she left her home of Ceará for the first time in her life to act in an independent film (titled “Berenice Procura”) in Rio de Janeiro that debuted at São Paulo Fashion Week.
It was in November 2016 when she first walked her first runway at the São Paulo Fashion Week. After that, L’Oréal made a short film about Sampaio that they released on International Women’s Day.
And so on International Women’s Day in 2016, Sampaio was 19 years old and stepped into the spotlight when she decided to come out as trans in a heartwarming L’Oreal Paris video. She later became one of the company’s brand ambassadors.
Becoming the First of Many
Sampaio is making a dent in the modeling world. In February 2017, Sampaio got the international media attention she was looking for after appearing on the cover of Vogue Paris. She was also the first transgender model to appear on Vogue’s cover.
Later that year, she appeared on the covers of Vogue Brasil and Vogue Germany as well. And guess what – she’s also the first openly trans woman to be featured on both their magazines as well. Sampaio is now signed with the New York modeling agency The Lions.
One Gets Hired; One Resigns
In 2018, Sampaio was photographed while on her way to the casting of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. She wasn’t hired, though. Then in early August 2019, Sampaio’s Instagram post indicated her association with Victoria’s Secret PINK, making it official.
Pretty much all news sources mentioned the timing between her being hired and the comments and apology from VS’s Ed Razek. The day after news about Sampaio’s being hired came out, Razek resigned.
Valentina Sampaio Rocked a Swimsuit on the ELLE Brazil Cover
This was her second major cover in six months. When she appeared on the November cover of ELLE Brazil, she was really channeling a young Brooke Shields in that blue swimsuit and Burberry coat.
It was ELLE that six years before got the trans model movement going when it put fellow Brazilian Lea T on its December cover. Sampaio then went on to land the November cover ELLE Brazil.
Her Coming-Out Video
In her 56-second clip, she goes through her beauty routine to prepare for her new ID photo. In a voiceover, you hear her saying, “I love being a woman. It’s great when you accept yourself, love yourself…when you know that you’re worth it.”
“Beauty is something that transcends the body,” she states in her native language of Portuguese. “It comes from the soul.” She isn’t related, by the way, to Portuguese model Sara Sampaio.
She is the Face of Skunk
Sampaio has found the time between runways, and exotic photo shoots to land the job of being the face of Skunk, one of the hottest up-and-coming womenswear clothing brands.
In its winter 2017 ad campaign called ‘Russian Wind,’ she rolls around in typical supermodel style on a white fur blanket with a blue-eyed husky and remains unfazed by an unexpected and indoor blizzard.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Breaking records and making history has been more than Valentina Sampaio could ever have imagined. “Things have happened so fast; I’ve barely had time to process and think about what all this means,” she told BuzzFeed News about her Vogue cover.
“I’ve realized a dream of such size I really can’t describe it.” But Sampaio won’t be able to walk Victoria’s Secret’s famous annual runway show because the brand decided to discontinue its traditional television broadcast.
No More Victoria’s Secret Runway Shows
“Fashion is a business of change,” was stated in a memo from Victoria’s Secret. The company claims that they need to evolve and change to grow. So they are re-thinking the traditional Victoria’s Secret Show.
And they don’t believe network television is the right fit. And if you think about it, in this Netflix and YouTube age, who really watches network television anymore? Maybe they have a point.
Then Again, She is ‘Just’ Another Model
Perhaps the most important thing that Valentina Sampaio would want you to know is that she is, essentially, a model like any other. She may be famous because she’s trans, but she has everything to offer that other models do.
As French Vogue’s editor-in-chief put it: “When a transgender person poses on the front cover of a fashion magazine, and it is no longer necessary to write an editorial on the subject will we know that the battle is won.”
Never Stop Dreaming
Sampaio’s agent, Erio Zanon, said when she was hired for the catalog work for Victoria’s Secret’s Pink, the company’s athletic line, that she “believes that this is a great opportunity to break barriers” in the fashion business “and to contribute to a bigger representation for everybody.”
In her post on Instagram that revealed to all her fans that she was going to be working with Victoria’s Secret, she added the line “Never stop dreaming.”
Facing the Criticism
Victoria’s Secret is a brand that has struggled with criticism that it’s outdated and out of touch, which means that Sampaio’s selection was seen as majorly past due. At least, that’s the consensus of many who criticized the brand.
“Wow, finally!” Laverne Cox from ‘Orange Is the New Black’ wrote on Sampaio’s Instagram post, Cox has spoken publicly about her own hurdles and breakthroughs as a transgender actress.
Out of Touch
Victoria’s Secret is still a major leading lingerie brand in America, but its share of the market has taken a dive, and the company is trying to keep up with the times. Their fashion shows that only feature skinny models, thongs and push-up bras have been criticized as sexist and antiquated.
There are new lingerie start-ups, like Third Love and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty that are rising up as competitors that embrace inclusivity. And if this is the trend, then VS is in serious risk of becoming obsolete.
From Cover to Cover
Sampaio was featured on many covers, but one was for the cover of the fashion magazine ODDA, which was photographed by Diego Villarreal. Sampaio has also worked with brands like Philipp Plein, and Pollini, Moschino.
“The fashion industry is an instrument to raise flags that promote diversity, where things are more fluid, and beauty evolves. Fashion is a freer world,” Sampaio stated in an interview with Buzzfeed News.
Her Social Media Following
Valentina shares her posts on Instagram with nearly 350 thousand who follow her, and the numbers are likely to only grow from here. The Brazilian currently lives in New York, the mecca of fashion.
The model who says yoga and functional training are her preferred ways of exercising, also says that her dream is “to be able to work more and more, in a fairer world, in which everyone has the same opportunities.”
Miriam Rivera, the First Transgender Reality TV Star, Dies at 38
Another noteworthy trans moment had happened recently when Miriam Rivera, the world’s first transgender reality TV star, died on February 5, 2019. She was found in Mexico under “mysterious circumstances.” She was 38 years old.
Although Rivera died months ago, the news only emerged in August when her husband, Daniel Cuervo, confirmed her death in a Facebook post. “My Adorable wife rest in peace, darling until God lets us be together again.”
According to reports, Rivera was found in her apartment and appeared to have committed suicide; but her husband disputed any suicide as her cause of death and told Daily Mail Australia he suspects something else happened.
Rivera was known for her 2004 British reality TV dating show called ‘There’s Something About Miriam’ as well as her appearance on “Big Brother Australia’s” 4th season the same year.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
‘There’s Something About Miriam’ started some controversy when contestants filed personal injury lawsuits against the production company Endemol. Why? Because apparently, it wasn’t right of Rivera to wait until the final episode to reveal that she was transgender.
Tom Rooke, the show’s winner, originally accepted the prize money of £10,000 and even a vacation with Rivera, but later gave back his winnings and joined the other contestants in their lawsuits. Endemol ended up settling for an undisclosed amount.
Let’s see some other trans models that have entered the fashion industry…
In 2017, Parisian model Ines Rau also made history as the first “out” trans woman to appear as the Playmate centerfold in Playboy. Keep in mind that trans model Caroline “Tula” Cossey wasn’t publicly out when she appeared in a spread in the magazine in 1981.
Rau has also appeared in Vogue and Vogue Italia, and models for major fashion labels including Balmain and Hood By Air.
Bloom is a fierce advocate in the trans community who started out in the Chicago ballroom scene. She moved to New York in her late teens start modeling. Bloom has walked the runway for Chromat and The Blonds, and appeared on magazine covers like Galore and Candy.
She recently led a social media campaign to become the first trans woman of color to walk the runway for Victoria’s Secret. Bloom is going to appear in the upcoming film ‘Fluidity’ with Nico Tortorella and James Chen.
Ashley has graced the magazine covers of Attitude and Gay Times, as well as TV spots including Strut and Pose. Laith Ashley is a face to watch as he has a lot of tricks up his sleeve.
In addition to being an up and coming model, Ashley is also a recording artist — and came out with his first music video clip in 2018. The song is called ‘Before You Go.’
In 2016, Quinlivan came out as a trans woman during an interview with CNN-Style. She previously worked in the industry in secrecy, but now Quinlivan uses her visibility in fashion to advocate on behalf of the trans community.
She has spoken out on places like ELLE and Refinery 29 about all the injustices many trans people face. She’s worked with labels such as Vera Wang, Louis Vuitton, Monse, Alexandre Vauthier, and Moschino.
Kenny Ethan Jones
Kenny Ethan Jones made headlines when he starred in Pink Parcel’s I’M ON campaign, in which he spoke openly about menstruating as a trans man. He has continued to advocate for the community by appearing on programs like U.K. Channel 4’s ‘Genderquake: The Debate alongside Munroe Bergdorf.’
Jones creates educational content as well, such as his docuseries ‘Transparency,’ which talks about issues of transitioning. He recently was in River Island’s #LoveNotLabels Pride 2018 campaign.
Chella Man is a deaf and trans advocate, who’s also an artist, student, newly signed model, and columnist at Them. He has been documenting his entire transition on testosterone in his column “MAN-MADE.”
Chella has starred in videos about ASL and deaf culture. He recently modeled in American Eagle’s Pride 2018 campaign with his girlfriend and photographer MaryV Benoit.
19-year-old McArthur discovered his trans identity through cosplay, according to W magazine. Although he wore and modeled for women’s clothing throughout his childhood, he used cosplay to deal with his dysphoria.
Not long after starting his transition, he was signed to the modeling agency Soul Artist Management. Since, he has worked with Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, and Milk Makeup.
Geena Rocero is a writer, advocate, and the founder of GenderProud, which is a global advocacy network that helps trans people fight for their legal rights. She was born and raised in the Philippines and came from a pageant background.
She switched to modeling after being discovered by a photographer. Geena modeled for years before publicly coming out as trans during a TED Talk in 2016.
19-year-old artist Hunter Schafer is a fresh face in the modeling world who has recently signed to Elite. She has appeared in Miu Miu, and Marc Jacobs shows. Schafer was named one of Teen Vogue’s 21 Most Influential People Under 21.
She, along with many other trans models, advocates for the trans community, which includes joining the ACLU’s lawsuit against North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom bill.
Arisce Wanzer is popular from her appearance on Oxygen’s reality series ‘Strut’ alongside Isis King. She’s no stranger to modeling, having worked for Vogue, Vogue Italia, Vogue Germany, and Forbes.
She recently walked for Marco Marco’s NYFW presentation alongside several other well-known figures in the trans community.
A “nonbinary” model, Montana has credits including Eckhaus Latta and Barragán, made appearances in Paper, and did a shoot with David LaChapelle. Clearly, Tzef Montana is on the rise.
Montana is also an activist and artist, who purposefully uses their visibility to campaign on behalf of trans and those around the world who don’t conform to normal gender standards.
Oslo Grace is also considered a “nonbinary” model who goes by neither he or she. Grace made an impact recently when they walked for two major fashion forces: Jeremy Scott and Gucci.
Grace signed to BMG models in New York, and models both menswear and womenswear for their agency. That’s something totally new in the fashion world!
Benjamin Melzer is a Europe-based model and best known for being the first trans man on the cover of Men’s Health Germany. Melzer also became Diesel’s first transgender model after he appeared in the Diesel X About You campaign.
Melzer travels between Germany, New York City, London, and Milan for various fashion campaigns.