Refugee to Hijabi supermodel
Written by Maria Ahmad
Celebrating the journey of Halima Aden from refugee to supermodel
Halima Aden has been adding diversity to the modeling industry and giving underrepresented Muslim women visibility by refusing to follow the typical beauty standards in today’s society. Aden was born in a refugee camp in Kenya after she and her mother fled the Somali Civil War. Her passion for beauty and modeling began as early as her time spent in the refugee camps where she learned to braid hair. After staying in Kenya for some time, Aden and her mother moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota. In her Minnesota apartment, Halima would charge $10 to braid hair as a young child.
In her youth, Halima succeeded both academically and socially, becoming the first hijab-wearing homecoming queen at St. Cloud Apollo High School. Hijab is a term usually used to describe the head-covering and modest clothing worn by Muslim women. In addition to the outer covering of the body, hijab also has an inner meaning—the longing to be devoted to God and the way one carries out their actions. Aden continues to devote herself to wearing her hijab as it is a part of her identity. While Aden attended university, she became the first Somali member of the student government. Aden also became the first Somali American and hijabi to compete in the 2016 Miss Minnesota USA pageant, making it to the semifinals. In addition to wearing the hijab, she became the first contestant to wear a burkini (full-body swimsuit) during the pageant swimsuit walk. Aden garnered national attention and was signed to IMG modelling agency, becoming the first hijabi model to sign with a major agency. Since then, Aden’s career has exploded into modeling for several large brands and magazines such as Fenty Beauty, Essence Magazine and Sports Illustrated Magazine.
Halima continues to prove that modest Muslim women have a place on the runway and fashion industry. In 2017, she was on the cover of Allure US Magazine before appearing on the cover of British Vogue in 2018. Aden made another mark in history when she was featured on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue as the first model to wear a hijab and burkini full-body swimsuit. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit strives to show that your beauty is defined by you, whether you choose to wear a two-piece or a burkini. In an article from the Daily Swim website, “Halima Aden Makes History by Becoming the First Model to Wear a Hijab and Burkini in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit,” editor MJ Day explains why she admires Halima and her understanding of beauty.
“I admire Halima, and I consider her an inspirational human for what she has decided to use her platform for and her work with UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund) as an ambassador. She is, in my opinion, one of the great beauties of our time, not only outside but inside. When we met, I was instantaneously taken by her intelligence, enthusiasm and authenticity,” Day said.
This year, Aden was also on the cover of Essence Magazine for its January/February issue celebrating her accomplishments as she is breaking down barriers and her achievement for being the first Black female on the cover of Essence to wear a hijab. While modeling for several magazines, Aden has also been featured in Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty campaigns, walked for shows such as Yeezy and collaborated with modest brand Modanisa showing their fashion scarves and turbans.
Aden shows that fashion and beauty is not solely based on looks and trends, but from the beauty within. Beauty should not be attached only to makeup and clothes, but something that radiates from within to the outside world. It comes from the way you behave and carry yourself. Women are still beautiful even when covered head to toe. Aden encourages people to never conform to someone else’s standards, but rather to be your true self.
Aden encourages people to never conform to someone else’s standards, but rather to be your true self.
Aden not only inspires modest Muslim women every day through fashion, but also has become an inspiration to help others. Since August 2017, she has been involved with UNICEF. She became a UNICEF ambassador in July 2018 after returning to her refugee camp in Kenya and sharing her story on TedX. Aden recalls the days when she was in the Kenyan refugee camp and how UNICEF workers used to make her feel more stable and secure. Aden is also executive producer of a film called “I Am You.” She felt compelled to be involved in the production of this film because when people think of refugees, they tend to think of people that want to cause trouble and incite violence. In reality, refugees are running away from violence they faced back home. The film tells a compelling story about a young refugee and recognizes that refugees are people, just like the rest of Americans. It also shows how many refugees are not choosing to leave for better lives, but are being forced to leave their homes.
Aden also works with brands to promote sustainability and the promotion of equal access and opportunity to children around the world. She is currently collaborating with Bottletop’s #TOGETHERBAND campaign to help meet the United Nation’s 17 Global Goals. These goals will help make way for the ultimate objective of creating a healthier planet. The #TOGETHERBANDs are made from ethically sourced materials of varying colors to represent the Global Goals. Aden was featured on The Observer Magazine wearing her Goal 8 #TOGETHERBAND, which represents Decent Work and Economic Growth. She looks back on how she was featured in magazines all around the world and how she was able to walk on runways wearing the hijab. Aden believes “every child should have the opportunity to flourish.”
She aims to inspire everyone to never be afraid of being yourself and to always remember to give back to humanity.
Only four years in the industry, Aden has already accomplished so much. She aims to inspire everyone to never be afraid of being yourself and to always remember to give back to humanity.
Just imagine how much more history she will be making in the near future.