Certainly, for Sampaio, her status has become an asset, not a weakness, to her success in the industry, with a very different trajectory. Openly trans from the get-go, she has managed to clock many firsts for trans models including featuring on the cover of Vogue Paris and Sports Illustrated, and securing contracts with L’Oréal and Victoria’s Secret.
Sampaio’s story is one of confidence and pride, based largely on a supportive foundational network. At home and school, her transition was not as fraught as many others had experienced. According to Valentina her parents “were always supportive and very proud” and classmates were accepting as “they already saw me as a little girl.” Sampaio was studying fashion by the age of 16 and soon after a makeup artist discovered and signed her with a São Paulo modelling agency.
Of course, no success story comes without its share of challenge. The hallmark of every cultural pioneer, they must battle attitudes, old-fashioned thinking and stereotypes to break glass ceilings and change outmoded systems from within. For Sampaio her first modelling job for a clothing company ended abruptly due to her gender identity. Pulled off the ad campaign, she was told the conservative brand’s clientele would not be receptive to her inclusion.
“Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples’ hearts and minds,” says Sampaio. “We face snickers, insults, fearful reactions and physical violations just for existing. Our options for growing up in a loving and accepting family, having a fruitful experience at school or finding dignified work are unimaginably limited and challenging.”
Despite the early setbacks Sampaio went on to feature in an independent film in Rio which debuted at São Paulo Fashion Week. Sampaio walked her first runway there in November, 2016. Then on International Women’s Day, L’Oréal released a short film about Sampaio and made her one of the company’s brand ambassadors.
This is even more significant because Sampaio used the attention to shine a light on the staggering violence against trans women in her home country where data shows a trans person is killed every 48 hours.
Story by Niyati Libotte
Edited by Alannah Rigby
Narration by Paul G Roberts
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