Watch: Will This Out Model be the First Man in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 8, 2021

This year's edition of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue might feature something a little different: A man.

Out model Lewis Freese is the first male to reach the finalist stage for the publication's annual photo spread, Good Morning America reports.

In his audition video, GMA noted, "the 21-year-old said he recalls being 'obsessed' with SI models such as Kate Upton and Ashley Graham because they inspired him to be confident in who he was." (Watch his audition video in the post below.)

"But as a man and as a teenager, I felt so embarrassed and ashamed of that because I was told for so long I had to look up to men and I had to aspire to be something that a man would be and not a woman,"
Freese, who is still in college as a full-time student, went on to say.

"I've learned that that's absolutely not true."

In an exclusive interview with People Magazine, Freese recalled a previous attempt to win a spot in the annual Swimsuit Issue.

Saying he was "confused about my identity, my gender, and really where I was going to go" when he first auditioned in 2019, Freese posed the question: "Being that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has always led the conversation of inclusion and diversity, I thought why not bring this discussion to the brand?

"Swimwear is one of the most binary forms of clothing, and I believe Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has redefined the true meaning of what a swimsuit embodies," Freese continued.

Added the model: "I think it's ironic for me to be doing a swimsuit competition when swimsuits have been the downfall of my confidence in the past."

Contrasting his 2019 audition video with the one he sent in for this year, the Minnesota native told People, "I've realized my message is so much more about gender variety and how every person's gender presents itself differently. With those differences comes a need for acceptance so we can all inspire, encourage, and love each other regardless of how we identify.

"Growing up I always felt the need to suppress any form of femininity, however, brands like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit instilled confidence and hope in me."

Freese also indicated as social justice aspect to his having entered the competition. "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 said.

Representation extends - or should extend - to modeling, Freese said, explaining his philosophy. "If we can increase the number of times we see different gender and sexualities in advertisements and campaigns, those variations can become more accessible and respected."

That line of thought influences his vision for the future. Besides wanting to found a business that will focus on "gender-neutral products," Freese said he sees himself as one day going "into legislative work revolving around trans, queer, and nonbinary reform to improve our community's accessibility to safety, health care, housing and education."

As for his own gender identity, Freese told People: "I've discovered that my gender fluidity is always present, and some days I wake up feeling like I fall under multiple gender identifications. I describe myself to others as just Lewis because identifying with one set of pronouns or gender makes me feel so limited."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.