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#SISwimSearch Sweet 17: Meet Soraya Yd

Get to know #SISwimSearch contestant Soraya Yd!

Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video or showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
Soraya Yd: Yes, I had experience modeling prior to showing up in person to the #SISwimSearch. I started freelancing after turning 18, and a few years later I signed with my current agency in NYC, MMG.

I’ve always been very passionate about my career and it’s an emotion that I emanate in front of the camera or while working on set. I strongly believe in living life without regrets, I always give 200% and never hold back. 

I love that every day is a new day, a new adventure, a new group of coworkers, new friendships are built, and new lessons are learned. I enjoy that I never know what or where my next booking or job will take place. I wake up with so much gratitude every day for being able to work in a career that I love, because “when you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life!”

SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami?
SY: My casting experience in Miami was extremely surreal and life-changing from the moment it started! Everyone on the Sports Illustrated team, including models and production, were very sweet, kind and attentive. MJ impacted my life in more ways than one that day, and I can’t express my gratitude towards her enough.

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I remember at one point while waiting to meet with the SI team, I was looking around and thinking how much I loved seeing women of different ages, heights, physical features, and body types! During the one-on-one interview part of my casting I was honest, unapologetically raw, and spoke from my heart, while being as transparent as possible. I shared part of my family’s story, my modeling story, and my goals for my family, career, and society. I smiled, laughed, and even teared up during my interview. I walked away happy knowing I was able to share so much about my true self, while also leaving a little bit of me behind.

One of the highlights of my casting experience was when Myla Dalbesio sat with us and openly shared her story about losing her parents at a young age, and dealing with anxiety as an adult. When it was time to share our stories, she was very supportive and gave us one-on-one feedback. Her empathy towards each of us showed what a beautiful human she is from the inside out, and I was touched by the supportive words she gave me. 

The next part of the process was the photoshoot with world-renowned photographer, Yu Tsai. I couldn’t believe this experience and interaction was happening–it was one for the books! The amount of teamwork and dedication from the whole SI brand was quite noticeable and admirable. They offered us racks filled with bikini options that we could choose from to help us feel more confident and comfortable in front of the camera.

They also had personnel outside of the changing rooms to assist us with questions, bikini fits, and help guide us in the right direction. Beside the changing rooms were two tables with lotion, scrunchies, styling products, mirrors, and robes to make us feel and look our best. I was touched by all the thoughtful efforts the team made to make this such an awesome experience for all. 

I tried a few bikini options, but chose to keep my Sports Illustrated 25th anniversary bikini, as I felt it best described my personality: eccentric, vibrant, and unique.

I’ve never seen a photographer so invested with models as I did that day. He was very encouraging while helping those who were shy to break out of their shell. He showed models how to pose and express themselves in front of the camera, and It was truly a joy watching him instruct us. Right after each model’s shoot was done, MJ chose the image, pose, and emotion that complimented us best. I loved being able to witness her go through the selection process for each model, and her excitement as she exclaimed when she’d find “the one.”

When it was time to hear the names of the top 16 models, it was a very emotional moment for all. The Sports Illustrated team shared a few words with us, once again helping us feel proud, loved, supported and inspired. When Camille Kostek began to speak, I knew the time had come, she started with a beautiful message and transitioned to calling names. As she went down the list, my hands got clammier, my heartbeat grew faster, my legs felt like angel hair pasta, and I KNEW that this moment could change my life forever.

By the time she called number eight I thought to myself, “wow, there's only eight more names that will be announced, will I be a part of this group?” Camille then announced number nine, and that's when I felt the huge knot in my throat begin to grow. That’s when I heard “number 10, Soraya Yd.” She flips over the picture MJ chose from the shoot earlier on in the day. I'm in shock, my heart stops, the world stops, everything around me goes silent, and I can barely breathe. My eyes fill up with tears and my brain starts processing that Camille has called my name, and that the girl on that glossy paper is me.

By the time they called number 16, I knew it was official and this was my REALITY. I made the cut and a new chapter in my life was about to unfold. To our lovely surprise, Camille called 17 names instead of 16 and we rejoiced in happiness while taking pictures for the official #SISwimSearch public announcement.

Once I grabbed my things, I stepped outside where my rental car was parked. I sat on the curb before even making it to my car. I started sobbing deeply while thanking God, the universe, and my family and my friends for everything. I needed to have a “pinch me’ moment to process everything that happened that day.

I’ve never gone to bed with such a big smile in my heart and soul as I did that night. I woke up the next morning thinking it may have all been a dream, but a quick look at the SI Instagram reminded me that later on that day, I would be taking part in one of the most important events of my life. 


SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you?
SY: Being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search means breaking down stereotypes in the modeling industry, as well as in society. It’s living proof for other young women and little girls around the world that they should never stop dreaming, because anything you put your mind to can be accomplished.

Throughout my modeling career, I’ve been rejected in many ways. When I first started, I had a casting director ask me “what are you” because I wasn’t “dark enough” or “light enough” for the casting. I was flabbergasted by her question, and began to explain my ethnic background in hopes I would be allowed into the casting room. I soon realized that being of olive complexion with big curly hair and dark features wasn’t to the liking of some, but I didn’t let someone’s thoughts or comments get in the way of my goals. 

I’ve been told I’m “too short,” “too tan,” have “too much booty,” that I’m “too commercial,” my hair is “too thick,” that I’m not “editorial enough”–the list goes on and on. 

If I had listened to all the criticism I've received throughout the years, I wouldn’t have continued to push forward towards my dreams and be where I am today. It’s very empowering to be part of such an inclusive brand that represents women of all types and sizes.

Not only does the model search look beyond the industry’s prerequisites, but it also creates an equal opportunity for all women to be seen and heard. We’re able to show that beauty is not only skin deep, and that there is depth beyond what you see not only in a model, but also in a woman.

This is an international platform where we can use our voices to make an impact and difference in society. It allows us to share our stories in hopes of inspiring and motivating people in many ways. Sports Illustrated is such an iconic brand that has worked with the biggest names in the modeling industry and has started the careers of many others. They are setting the tone in an industry that has been closed off for far too long, and it is an absolute honor to be part of this progressive evolution.

SI: Tell us about some of the current challenges you are facing at home and how they impacted your decision to come to the open casting call in Miami? 
SY: I’m currently a full-time model and my mom’s full-time caretaker. She is suffering from stage four Alzheimer’s, which is pretty severe and extremely heartbreaking. She’s not coherent, nor cognitive, doesn’t know who my dad and I are, and has to be completely supervised from the moment she wakes up until the moment she gets carried into bed.