By Lauren Rearick
For the first time in the company’s 42-year history, Victoria’s Secret cast a transgender model to appear in one of its campaigns. Valentina Sampaio, a model and actor from Brazil, is slated to appear in a mid-August ad, CNN reported. She teased the shoot with a photograph ostensibly taken on set, and tagged the retailer’s younger-skewing offshoot brand, PINK, in the post.
Though neither Victoria's Secret nor PINK has yet to feature Sampaio on any of its own social channels, her appearance will mark the first time the lingerie company has featured a model who publicly identifies as transgender. She previously attended the casting for the brand's televised fashion show in 2018 but was not booked for the event. (In May the brand announced that it had pulled the 2019 show from network TV.)
The casting is historic, and Alex Schmider, GLAAD Associate Director of Transgender Representation, acknowledged the importance of a major industry player finally catching up to 2019. “Global brands are finally taking the initiative to include trans women in the fashion and retail industry, reflecting the reality of the world we live in,” he told MTV News.
The long-overdue moment of representation doesn’t come without a reminder of the company’s transphobic past. In a November 2018 interview with Vogue, Ed Razek, the now-former chief marketing officer for L Brands, the company that owns Victoria’s Secret, made a series of transphobic and fatphobic remarks, The Hollywood Reporter noted. Razek both used an outdated term in referring to transgender people and disparaged both the trans and plus-sized communities when asked about why the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was still lacking in diversity.
The comments sparked outrage among customers and the modeling community, and although Razek later apologized, he remained employed with the company. It wasn’t until August 6, 2019, the same week as Sampaio’s casting was announced, that Razek stepped down; he shared his plans to retire in a memo sent to staff, Harper’s Bazaar reported.
Schmider told MTV News that the backlash to Razek’s comments signaled on a global scale that members of the trans community and allies were holding the industry accountable for its failings. “Valentina Sampaio has a major opportunity to send an uplifting and affirming message to transgender women around the world that they belong and show that inclusion is what’s best for brands today,” he said, adding that perhaps a troubled past would signal a brighter future for a company that will hopefully learn from its wrongdoings and oversights.
And other industry power players are already taking notice. The model Carmen Carrera who has appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race and modeled for Rihanna’s lingerie line, Savage X Fenty, told MTV News she’s excited about Sampaio’s new gig. “I am so happy that Victoria’s Secret is moving closer to embracing all women by hiring their first transgender model. I also wish it hadn’t taken them this long. But I am cheering for you, Valentina,” she said.
And Geena Rocero, Playboy's first transgender Asian Pacific Islander Playmate, shared with MTV News that it’s more important than ever for LGBTQ+ people to be represented, particuarly in light of the continued violence against transgender people and the Trump administration’s attempts to deny basic rights to trans people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community basic rights.
“I will keep on insisting to live my dream, to never settle for what the society might dictate on the limits of what a trans person should and can do,” Rocero said. “I have a strong and resilient trans community, we will never back down and we will always insist on the dignity and beauty of our personhood. The journey of trans people’s lives have so much to teach the world, and that is to persist despite all the odds, because we have nothing to lose but demand our existence.”
The news of Sampaio’s casting arrived as the entertainment and fashion industries continued to unveil work that’s more representative of trans people. On August 7, the creator of Rocko’s Modern Life announced that one of the characters in a planned Netflix reboot would be transgender, and in May, Gillette debuted an ad that featured a transgender artist shaving for the first time with the help of his father. And Hunter Schafter, a model for Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, and more, has received national acclaim for her breakout role in HBO's Euphoria.
There is certainly still more work to be done when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, particularly among large movie studios, but Kevin Wong, Trevor Project’s head of communications, told MTV News that he hopes Sampaio’s appearance has positive ramifications around the world. "Some LGBTQ young people are still unable to safely be themselves, or to freely express their gender identity,” he said. “They can sometimes look to local and international stages as one of the few ways to see people like them, and this kind of visibility helps them know they're beautiful the way they are, and never alone."