Ines Rau, a French fashion model who was featured nude in a 2014 issue of Playboy and has previously worked with Balmain and Vogue Italia, is the first transgender model to appear as a centerfold in the magazine's 64-year history.
"Every woman's beauty deserves to be celebrated," Rau, 26, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her first interview to the media about the feature.
"No one deserves to be a woman more than those [trans women] who routinely suffer abuse and are treated like they're less than nothing."
Standing on the right side of history. pic.twitter.com/i9ySJ4yBrL— @Playboy
The Playboy feature comes as transgender models are becoming increasingly visible in fashion brands and media. In March the French edition of Vogue featured a transgender model for the first time on its cover, as did Marie Claire Spain in 2016.
In August French cosmetics giant L'Oreal hired is first transgender model, Munroe Bergdorf, to front an advertising campaign celebrating diversity. It sacked her days later after she described all white people as racist on Facebook.
Rau said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, an outspoken supporter of civil rights, had personally chosen her to be the magazine's first transgender playmate before he died at the age of 91 in September, and "told me he was very proud of me."
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"The messages of encouragement I've received from people have been amazing, although I'm still told by some that I'm ugly and should never be allowed in Playboy," she said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Here's one story for those that aren't aware of the company's history in the LGBTQ+ space - https://t.co/2ccMGV0MdX— @cooperhefner
We should collectively be fighting for a more open world, not one that promotes hatred and a lack of acceptance.— @cooperhefner
Rights groups celebrated the feature as a positive step bringing LGBT rights into the spotlight.
"Trans women are women. That is not up for debate, by media commentators or anyone else. We applaud Ines for continuing to speak out on the rights of trans people everywhere," said a spokesman for LGBT charity Stonewall.
The decision to feature Rau sparked debate on social media, with one man commenting on the magazine's Facebook page that "this was the last straw, sorry but I like my women real, not 500 surgeries later."
"There will always be trolls," said Rau. "But if I can help others to love themselves then it's worth it."
While Rau's Playmate status is a milestone moment, Caroline (Tula) Cossey, who had a bit part in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, was the first trans woman to ever appear in any Playboy pictorial, having done so in 1981 and 1991.