leyna bloom could be the first trans victoria’s secret angel
'I’m doing this for the people,' Leyna tells i-D. 'When I get a chance to walk that show, I’m representing that underdog, that dreamer.'
Leyna Bloom has opened shows for Chromat and been the first trans model to pose for Vogue India. Next on her list? Securing a pair of angel wings. “Trying to be the first trans model of color to walk a #victoriassecret fashion show,” Leyna tweeted this week, hashtagging the lingerie giant as well as the mantra “TransIsBeautiful.” This is not the first time the model has caught Victoria’s Secret in her crosshairs. In November 2017, following what was largely recognized as the brand’s most diverse show yet, Leyna made it clear that there was still a long way to go before runways adequately reflect the world we live in. "All these women of color in the VS fashion show that's amazing right,” she wrote on Twitter. “But they still have way more white girls.”
Leyna understands that a global corporation has the ability to affect widespread acceptance of the trans community. It’s awesome that trans models are no longer anomalies at New York Fashion Week, thanks to new-gen designers like Chromat and Gypsy Sport. But one can’t deny the revolutionary power of a trans girl stomping across the TV set of a family in Middle America while Taylor Swift belts out pop anthems behind her. That being said, the Victoria’s Secret Angel mission is also a personal one for Leyna. “When I started my transition, the first place I wanted to go to was Victoria’s Secret,” she tells i-D over the phone from Peru, where she’s trying to enjoy some downtime while her phone blows up up over the viral campaign. “I wanted to get that push-up bra, I wanted to wear those clothes, I felt like this was the epitome of femininity. When you get the opportunity to be in that moment of feeling self-love for once in your life, that’s a good feeling to have.”
Leyna talked to i-D about Instagram, social justice, and how brands can diversify in a truly meaningful way.
Was there something in particular that encouraged you to make yesterday’s post?
I can remember when [I was] getting into fashion and getting opportunities, having big photographers come up and tell me, “You’re going to be the first trans model to walk a Victoria’s Secret show.” Four years later, and not seeing that come into fruition, it’s kind of up to me to make this happen. I can’t rely on my agency. I need to let people know that this is me standing tall on my own, and this is what I want, and this is what I deserve. Due to this opportunity, there’s going to be a big awakening.
Why focus so much energy on a mainstream lingerie brand that doesn’t seem to be making a huge effort towards diversity?
The bigger brands have the bigger punch, and they set the trends. They set the trend of what’s going on in the world. We need to be more inclusive not just in fashion but in everyday society. I’m thinking about all the brands outside the fashion world that are going to say, “Wow, Victoria’s Secret is giving this person the opportunity, let me hire this girl to run my business. Let me hire a trans girl to be a principal at my school, let me hire a trans girl to be a manager at the post office.” We need trans people in public spaces and I think Victoria’s Secret can lead that fight. People in Middle America could be open to this. I’m not trying to force it on anyone, but I’m trying to find my own path to giving back to the trans community.
How important has social media been to your modeling career?
Social media certainly has its advantages. It’s been my route to some form of success. I can interact with everyone on every level. My following has grown from when I did Chromat, from when I did Candy magazine, from when I did Vogue India. The help I’ve received has definitely got me more opportunities that I feel like I deserve and I’ve been working hard for. I do feel like I am working a bit too hard. I put that Victoria’s Secret post up because I was like, ‘Why do I have to work this hard to get recognized? Why is it that everywhere I go people are recognizing me but the people in charge are not? What am I doing wrong? What qualifications do I not have?’ I’m not the type of person who wants to give up on my dream. I’m going to use other avenues to get to my destination.
I’m doing this for the people. When I get a chance to walk that show, I’m representing that underdog, that dreamer, that girl in the Bronx or the South Side of Chicago. When I was growing up, there were no trans supermodels I was looking up to. They were not allowed at the castings. They were fetishized then their lifestyles were taken and put on the clothes. Now that we do have representation and we’re here, why do we have to work extra hard just to get what we feel we deserve?
You’re very active in social justice causes too, whether it’s taking part in the March for Our Lives or posting memes about white supremacy.
Absolutely. My dad is an activist, my dad is an artist, my dad is a lover of life. My mom was an immigrant, she was deported by immigration, so that’s something I speak about. I also speak about climate change and why that’s super important, and why, in order to take care of our environment, we need to love ourselves. I come from the Philippines. We are farmers and we fishers and we’re family folk. In order for me to understand my life and take care of the planet, I need to know where I come from. In modern-day society we get lost in this hocus pocus of social media and political power. I’m a black woman, and my dad was a Chicago police officer, so I understand the corruption of justice. I try to get outraged as much as possible and to speak on these radical topics, because it’s important that I not only have brains and beauty, but I have passion. I can’t be selfish in my opportunities. I’ve been given a platform and I need to give back. It’s my duty to the people.
It’s great that models are now willing to speak up about injustice. But at the same time, some girls are being heard louder than others. Do you get worried that you might be subjected to the sort of bigotry that Monroe Bergdorf experienced?
I’m definitely familiar with my sister Monroe and what happened to her at L’Oréal. That’s what I mean about these brands. Yes, they’re starting to use us, but are they protecting us? Are they giving us a photo opp to get that check on the list, or are they actually celebrating us? Why give us the opportunity if they’re not going to celebrate us? If you’re going to give me an opportunity to be part of this moment that is much bigger than me, protect the entire moment. When you do something you’ve never done before, you can’t mess up like that. You really have to have all your heart in it. When I shot for Vogue India, the name of the editorial was “Celebrating the Differences.” But at the end of the day, they didn’t protect me. Why? Because they put someone else’s name on my photo. That editorial went through so many people, and everyone else’s pictures were perfect. That’s why I must speak up and I must stand my ground and I must demand to be treated with respect.
How can brands be more diverse in casting without tokenizing trans women and women of color?
The process of having more people of color getting these opportunities is coming. But there are still curve models, there are still petite models, there are still differently abled people, and there are trans people. There’s an array of different types of amazing people in this world. We are buyers of these powerful household brands like Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, and Victoria’s Secret. The stocks will go high if you are representing everyone. I talk to people who say they’re not going to support brands that don’t represent them. We need a rebirth, we need heroes out here who are about that rebirth. When you’re representing everyone, that’s when it works.