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See This Year's 3 History-Making "Sports Illustrated" Swimsuit Cover Models

Megan Thee Stallion, Leyna Bloom, and Naomi Osaka mark major firsts for the magazine.

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover usually goes to a professional model—or in some cases, a bunch of professional models. But, this year, the magazine is switching things up. The 2021 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has three different covers, featuring three different women. And each woman is making history in her own way by being the face of the famous issue.

This year's cover models are rapper Megan Thee Stallion, tennis star Naomi Osaka, and model/actor Leyna Bloom. Not only are these women unexpected choices because they don't model full-time, but they also help the magazine mark a handful of other milestones. Read on to see the firsts that these stars achieved in the swimsuit issue's 57-year history.

RELATED: See Every '90s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover Model, Then and Now.

Bloom is SI's first trans cover model.

Leyna Bloom on the cover of "Sports Illustrated"
Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

Bloom is the first transgender model to appear on the cover of the swimsuit issue. The magazine featured a trans woman inside the swimsuit issue for the first time last year when Valentina Sampaio posed for a photographer.

"I have dreamt a million beautiful dreams, but for girls like me, most dreams are just fanciful hopes in a world that often erases and omits our history and even existence," Bloom wrote of the honor in a lengthy statement on Instagram. "This moment is so powerful because it allows me to live forever even after my physical form is gone. Not a lot of people get to live in the future, so at this moment, I'm proudly choosing to live forever."

Bloom is known for her modeling—which includes posing for Vogue India, Tommy Hilfiger, and H&M—as well as her activism. She speaks out about the need for diverse representation in the fashion world. In 2018, she made headlines for her campaign to become the first trans woman to walk in the Victoria's Secret runway show.

Megan Thee Stallion is the first rapper to land the cover.

Megan Thee Stallion on the cover of "Sports Illustrated"
James Macari/ Sports Illustrated

Only rarely have women from other fields besides modeling been swimsuit issue cover stars. Megan Thee Stallion is only the second musician to be on the cover, and she's the first rapper. Beyoncé was the cover star back in 2007.

"My earliest memory of a SI Swimsuit cover was Tyra [Banks]," Megan told People when her own cover was revealed. Banks became the first Black woman to appear on the cover in 1996 when she shared the shot with model Valeria Mazza. The next year, Banks landed a solo cover, and in 2019, she covered the magazine for a third time. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, this girl looks like me!'" Megan continued. "Here is this stunning Black woman owning her curves and it made a big impact. It made me think, maybe I can be on the cover of SI Swim one day. And guess what—I am!"

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Osaka is the first Haitian and Japanese woman to be on the cover.

Naomi Osaka on the cover of "Sports Illustrated"
Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated

In recent years, Sports Illustrated has begun featuring more athletes on the swimsuit issue cover. Mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey made the cover in 2016, and soccer player Alex Morgan was one of the stars in 2019. Now, tennis star Osaka has joined the list.

But that's not the only reason she's making SI history. "I'm so proud to be the first Japanese and Haitian women to grace one of the covers," Osaka said in a behind-the-scenes video from the shoot, according to Us Weekly. "I feel like that multi-cultural background is present in all of the things that I do. I try to incorporate that in everything, so hopefully you'll see that."

This also marks the first time three women of color have covered the issue.

2006 "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue cover
Raphael Mazzucco/Sports Illustrated

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has been around since 1964, kicking off with a long list of solo cover stars. But, in recent years, it has become more common for the magazine to feature multiple models on one cover or to release multiple covers. This year marks the first time that all of the cover stars featured have been women of color.

"If there's one thing that our cover models have in common, it's that they don't have one thing in common," MJ Day, the Editor in Chief of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, said. "They look different, have different upbringings, have different passions and inspirations. But each is a reminder that beauty comes in many forms."

RELATED: See the Model Who Just Made Sports Illustrated Swimsuit History Twice.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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