1st male model finalist makes Sports Illustrated search history

Sports Illustrated could feature its first male model in its upcoming 2021 swimsuit issue.

Of the diverse lineup of finalists, Lewis Freese is the only man who has made it a a finalist in the publication's annual model search.

During his submission video, 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.

"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," said Freese.

"I've learned that that's absolutely not true," he said.

Freese is a Minnesota-based full-time student and this is his second time applying to Sports Illustrated's Swim Search. He initially applied in 2019.

He shared in an Instagram post that the magazine is one of the most inspirational and encouraging brands he has ever come across.

"Regardless of your body, race, age, gender, or sexuality, their goal is to embrace and empower every single person for who they are," Freese said in a post. "Personally, I struggle with body image, self-acceptance, and too often find myself worrying about who others want me to be. The community, movement, and brand that Sports Illustrated has developed is a perfect representation of how large organizations should influence others."

"This dream started years ago and what once seemed almost impossible is finally coming true," Freese said in a post about shooting with Sports Illustrasted Swimsuit 2021.

Since announcing his participation in this year's model search, Freese has continued to post inspiring photos and messages on his personal social media platforms.

When it comes to being the first male to become a finalist, he told People, that the conecpt doesn't phase him.

"I really don't view myself as the first but as the next," he said. "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."

Other compelling finalists for this year's search include curve model Amanda Key, influencer Ella Halikas and actress Saje Nicole.

In 2020, Valentina Sampaio became the first transgender model to grace the pages of SI's swimsuit issue.
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