In a first, the magazine Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has revealed finalists for its 2021 Swim Search competition, and a 21-year-old male model has made the cut. According to a report in The Independent, Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Lewis Freese is the first man in the history of the competition to make it as a finalist.
He was quoted as telling People magazine: “The entire concept of being the first male does not phase me… I really don’t view myself as the first but as the next. The next model to break a barrier, the next model to have these uncomfortable conversations, the next model to be unapologetically myself.
“I am so grateful to be a part of a group of finalists who all represent completely different messages, yet have the same goal, to further inclusivity.”
Per the report, Freese had first applied for Swim Search in 2019, when he was “dealing with a lot of confusion”. “I was confused about my identity, my gender, and really where I was going to go.”
“It was hard for me to find a lot of people on mainstream media platforms discussing these issues. Being that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has always led the conversation of inclusion and diversity, I thought why not bring this discussion to the brand? There have been thousands of transgender, queer, and nonbinary activists like Marsha P. Johnson and CeCe McDonald who have inspired me to continue the conversation they started,” he was quoted as telling People.
In an Instagram post, the model shared his thoughts, writing in the caption alongside a series of pictures: “Omg, i literally don’t even know what to do or say but i am so so so beyond myself right now. this dream started years ago and what once seemed almost impossible is finally coming true. i cannot thank @si_swimsuit @mj_day and the entire si swim team for allowing me to spread my message throughout their platform.”
“Going through this process i have learned so much about myself and most importantly my identity. to be honest, i have noooo clue where my gender really falls at the moment but all i can do is take things day by day and share every moment with all of you (sic),” he continued.
“I hope all of you are ready to come on this ride with me because this is so much bigger than me and you, it’s about starting a conversation that is barely being had. (sic),” he stated.
The annual competition was virtual this year, and an announcement on the Swim Search website said the result was “bigger and better”. “The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit franchise is all about empowerment and is a platform championing diversity, inclusion and positive change… The result was bigger and better than ever resulting in a community built around strength, support and a platform for people to connect and create moments of self-discovery.”