Winnie Harlow Says Being the New 'SI Swimsuit' Issue Rookie Is an 'Absolute Dream'

The boundary-breaking model opens up to PEOPLE about her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue debut

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Winnie Harlow has been smashing barriers ever since she started in the modeling industry and she's still on a record-breaking streak.

Earlier this week it was announced that Harlow will be a 2019 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie in the upcoming issue, which marks the first time a model with vitiligo, a condition that causes patches of pigmentation loss on the skin, will be featured in the magazine. (She also just became the first model with vitiligo to walk the runway at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in November.)

Harlow was surprised with the news when she stopped by the SI offices for what she thought was just a regular casting call. SI Swim Editor MJ Day interrupted the casting to tell her she was a 2019 Rookie — and every second of Harlow's shrieks and screams of excitement were caught on film. "The video speaks for itself," says Harlow about her reaction to the news.

"Being able to say that I am in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is an absolute dream that I never thought would come true," Harlow tells PEOPLE exclusively. "As a little girl from Canada, it was hard to imagine growing up that I could be just like the gorgeous women that I saw on billboards, on the runway and in any magazine. There are certain milestones in a model's career that just make you feel like you have truly succeeded when they happen, and making my SI Swim debut is one of those huge moments. It's a complete honor not just as a model, but as a woman of color with vitiligo."

Harlow says being the first model with the skin condition to be featured marks a momentous occasion in the industry. "I'm so excited for people to see vitiligo be put under such a beautiful, sexy light and prove that our bodies can be celebrated. And this goes for all body types and conditions. We're redefining the swimsuit body."

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What she hopes this does is inspire others with skin conditions to embrace their bodies and not be ashamed to show them off.

"I really hope that people who deal with all types of skin conditions, especially vitiligo, of course, can see that there's absolutely no shame in showing off as much of our bodies and sexuality as we would like to, just like any other person can," Harlow shares. "And I hope that inspires more women, and men, to carve their space in the modeling industry and be proud of our bodies. I know in my heart that I will not the last model with vitiligo to be featured. We need to make sure that all bodies are celebrated and shown in a positive way, no matter what shape, condition, or color it may be."

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SI Swim is known for featuring a diverse cast of women on its pages and it's something Harlow is proud to be a part of.

"Although diversity in the modeling industry is appreciated in any capacity, I believe SI Swim truly is a force that genuinely cares about diversity and including all types of models in their issues," she shares. "Our goal is to redefine the swimsuit body, and SI has been a huge asset in making that happen. Every body is a beautiful body, and I appreciate SI for helping the public realize that, one step at a time."

Harlow revealed that when she told her family the big news, they were "just as "ecstatic" as she was.

"They have been so supportive throughout my entire career, so making my debut in SI Swim reminds not just me, but them, why I do what I do and affirms their never-ending support," Harlow shares. "I hope I can continue to make them proud."

Her bikini-clad photoshoot is set to take place in the Bahamas, and she's most likely going to be channeling her modeling idols when she gets on set.

"Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks have been huge influences and even mentors of mine, especially as models of color," she says. "They helped paved the way for our beauty to be celebrated. And of course, how can I forget the gorgeous Kate Upton, perhaps the most iconic SI model."

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