The rumours were right: the stunning Megan Thee Stallion is gracing the cover of this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But she's not alone: on two alternative covers, tennis powerhouse Naomi Osaka and transgender model Leyna Bloom also take the lead.
The covers are groundbreaking for the brand, featuring its first female rapper, first female Black athlete, and first transgender model.
"If there's one thing that our cover models have in common, it's that they don't have one thing in common," said Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor-in-chief MJ Day in a statement. "They look different, have different upbringings, have different passions and inspirations. But each is a reminder that beauty comes in many forms... This issue represents the culmination of our powerful community coming together during these trying times to make history."
Megan, 26, is a natural fit for obvious reasons: not only has she defined the concept of a hot girl summer, but she's covered plenty of mags in her career so far. The Grammy-winning Texan also dreamt of being a Sports Illustrated cover star, bringing her full circle.
In a behind-the-scenes video, she says, “I have a voice, I have a platform and I get to be the first rapper on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I’ve wanted to do it for so long. I’ve wanted to do it all my life. Like honestly, I was the little girl who was looking at Sports Illustrated, like, ‘One day, this is gonna be me.’ And I manifested it! I wanted to do it and now I’m here.”
As Day wrote, “Megan Thee Stallion doesn’t stay in one lane. In fact, she encourages everyone to be in multiple, and this is what we love about her. She captured the world’s attention with her music and style, but what caught our attention was her unfiltered approach to the way she makes you think. She uses her platform to push boundaries, dissect societal norms and encourage humans to think about the backward way our society continues to operate."
As for the 23-year-old Osaka, who will be competing at the Olympics in Tokyo very soon, became a tennis champ as a teenager (with a 125 mph serve), and has recently become a mental health and human rights activist, her inherent power made her a match for the magazine.
"What drew us to Naomi was her passion, strength and power geared toward consistently breaking barriers when it comes to equality, social justice and mental health," said Day. "She is wholeheartedly dedicated to achieving the impossible and has succeeded time and again. We are so honoured to have one of the fiercest female trailblazers in history as one of our 2021 covers."
Then we have the beautiful Bloom, 27, who went from being an established ballroom dancer to a boundary-breaking international model and actress, and one of the few openly transgender models to walk the runway during New York Fashion Week in 2017 and the first transgender woman of colour to appear in Vogue India.
Of her cover, Bloom shared, “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. 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.”
"Leyna is legendary in the world of activism, strikingly gorgeous, and has an undeniable sense of self that shines through the minute she walks on set," said Day. "Her story represents one grounded in resilience, and we couldn't be more thrilled to help her tell it. Her presence as the first trans woman of colour to be in our issue is a result of her lifetime dedication to forging her own path."
This year's issue also features singers Tinashe and Anitta, past cover models Olivia Culpo, Jasmine Sanders and Kate Bock, and more. And this comes just a week after the magazine's inclusive runway show, which featured models of all sizes, ages and races.
For reference, Tyra Banks was the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue in 1996 and, since then, only two other Black women have followed, including Beyoncé and Danielle Herrington. Sports Illustrated, you have come a long goddamn way.
[video_embed id='2244559']BEFORE YOU GO: Camila Cabello shuts down body-shamers[/video_embed]