Meet The First Hijabi Swimsuit Model In Sports Illustrated History
If you’ve ever watched America’s Next Top Model, you know how challenging and cruel the business of beauty can be. You can work hard to succeed, and there’s obviously a high level of skill involved when it comes to showing off intrinsic charisma, but ultimately, you’re judged on your looks, and there are certain barriers that have been seemingly unbreakable for a very long time. Simply put: it looked like certain people that looked a certain way just weren’t given the same opportunities as others.
While this would discourage a lot of folks, some saw it as a challenge, upped their fierceness to 11 and a half and whisper-growled, “Challenge accepted.” This is the tale of one such person. If you want a story of barriers being broken, doors being opened and bikinis, then we have just the inspirational yarn to spin for ya. It actually takes place in the salty sea…
'Sports Illustrated' Swimsuit Issue
You know how if an actor is immensely talented their craft will be rewarded with an Oscar or a Golden Globe?
For models, there are few honors higher than being featured in Sports Illustrated‘s annual swimsuit issue, which is seen by millions.
It’s a way for established models to show off what put them on top, and for up and coming fresh faces to launch their careers. It’s a huge honor and opportunity for anyone selected to be featured in it.
However… ever since it’s first issue on January 20, 1964, the type of models selected for the swimsuit issues have all had a lot in common.
Mainly, their looks. We don’t mean to throw shade, because appearing in this issue is a humongous honor.
However, that honor seemed to be reserved for a particular type of woman. If you scroll through images of past models, you’ll know exactly what we mean. But times have changed, and so have these rigid, outdated standards.
Meet Halima Aden. The Somali-American model was born in Kenya at the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
She lived there until the age of seven before moving to the United States, where she and her family settled St. Cloud, MN.
She became quite popular, even becoming homecoming queen of her high school. She then went on to pursue a career in modeling. As you can see, she wears a Hijab in her photo shoots. Is this a hindrance to her career?
SI Swimsuit Model
Not at all! In fact, Halima Aden has officially become the first model to wear a hijab and burkini in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit Issue.
Historically, the models featured in the photo series have all been women of a certain shape and color in scantily clad outfits.
But Aden is breaking down barriers, added some diversity to the popular magazine and doing it in an amazing outfit that drastically and positively stands out from the pack. Way to go!
What makes getting this job even more perfect is where they decided to have her photo shoot.
Her swimsuit photos were taken in her birth country, at Watamu Beach with photographer Yu Tsai. Way to come full circle, right?
If you want an American dream, this is it right here. Come to this country, work hard, achieve success beyond what you thought was possible and be rewarded by being reminded of your roots. Did we not tell you this was a great story?
As you might expect, Aden was absolutely thrilled and overwhelmed with every aspect of this.
She collected her thoughts on the matter, saying, “I keep thinking [back] to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp.
So to grow up to live the American dream [and] to come back to Kenya and shoot for Sports Illustrated in the most beautiful parts of Kenya–I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could have made up.”
Landing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue wasn’t Aden’s first time breaking down barriers or being the first to do something different.
She garnered headlines in 2016 at the age of 19 when she wore a hijab and burkini while competing in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
She said she did this because, “Like so many little girls, I never had anyone like me to look up to” and “with all the negativity right now … I know so many women who stopped wearing the hijab because they were scared.”
She continued, saying, “When I heard about the platform, I wanted to inspire Muslim women to challenge themselves … (but) I didn’t want to compromise my values.”
While she was greeted warmly by the pageant and followers of it, she actually received push-back in her own community.
“(Pageants aren’t) something that’s done in Somalia. It was a cultural shock … People didn’t even know what a burkini was. I didn’t even know myself until just last year!”
Despite this, she moved forward. She wound up becoming an overall semi-finalist in the competition.
She doesn’t regret it at all, and found it to be a positive experience, not just for herself, but for those who look like her. She’s actively trying to change perceptions with her modeling.
She said, “Representation is a privilege. Most images of Muslim women are attached to victimhood … I never see positive representation, the way I see other women being celebrated.”
“I wanted to challenge those definitions of beauty,” she continued. “It can be blonde hair and blue eyes, but it can also be something different.”
Since finishing in the top 15 of the competition, she has heard from women all around the world inspired by her.
“I heard from women in Tanzania, Indonesia — they were so proud to be getting positive feedback. It broke my heart when girls would share bullying stories … I had self-esteem issues growing up.”
Time For Us To Unite
Her closing comments on her experience in the Miss Minnesota Pageant were to spread a message of unity.
She wants to stop all instances of bullying wherever they persist, saying, “If you’re not a woman or don’t understand, it’s important to sympathize.”
She concluded her passionate plea with these powerful and easy to live by words, “We have so many barriers to break through … now is the time for us to unite. It’s weird to hate something you don’t understand.”
Moving On Up
As you might imagine, after making such an impactful debut at the Minnesota pageant, Aden received a lot of attention.
The next year she signed with IGM Models, a huge agency that would help keep her busy in the future.
Since then she has appeared on the cover of the British Vogue magazine and made her debut at the 2017 New York Fashion Week for Yeezy Season 5. She’s proving there’s a place in the modeling world for a modest Muslim woman.
As you can see, she’s also appeared on the cover of Allure, all the while never shedding her values.
It was this meteoric rise and her message of positivity that caught the eye of Sports Illustrated in the first place.
Now, she is officially the first woman to pose for the swimsuit issue while wearing a hijab and a burkini. And the folks behind the magazine couldn’t be happier with how it turned out or the experience of working with her.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit editor MJ Day shared her opinion on working with Aden and what they tried to accomplish together.
She said, “We believe beauty knows no boundaries. 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 as an ambassador.”
Oh, that’s right. Did we forget to mention? Besides being a role model for her looks, she’s even more beautiful on the inside for her charity work.
Vast And Subjective
Day continued, saying, “She is, in my opinion, one of the great beauties of our time, not only on the outside but on the inside.
When we met, I was instantaneously taken by her intelligence, enthusiasm and authenticity.
We bonded immediately over the idea of her participating in this year’s issue. We both believe the ideal of beauty is so vast and subjective.”
Yup, Sports Illustrated is getting to be more progressive, y’all. And it’s thanks to the help from women like Halima Aden.
You Are Worthy
Day concluded her thoughts on this groundbreaking shoot by sharing her opinions on how beauty is perceived in general by society.
“We both know that women are so often perceived to be one way or one thing based on how they look or what they wear.
Whether you feel your most beautiful and confident in a burkini or a bikini, YOU ARE WORTHY.”
Preach it louder for everyone in the back, and never stop letting this message be heard!
All Sizes And Colors
Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue has actually been pushing forward the notion of what conventional beauty has been dictated by society for a few years now.
Back in 2016, Ashley Graham became the magazine’s first plus-size swimsuit model and cover girl.
Graham is stunningly beautiful, but some places weren’t ready to showcase a model that wasn’t so petite. Before landing this gig, she actually modeled in a Lane Bryant lingerie commercial that was pulled from ABC because she was deemed “too big.”
Why do Aden and Graham continue to push the envelope for what models should look like?
It’s so women of all shapes and shades can feel good about themselves, and not be told that you have to fit specific stereotypes to be considered beautiful.
Considering how many ads we’re bombarded with from TV, movies, the internet and even on billboards and posters as we’re walking around, it’d be nice if there were more diversity in what we’re told is considered pretty.
And remember, Aden said what inspired her to start modeling in the first place is remembering how she felt as a child.
She never had anyone to look up to and aspire to be that looked like she did.
Now, she is that person, being an inspiration and hero to many. And this isn’t all about physical beauty. It’s about understanding that you belong and that you are worthy. So let’s take one last look at her awesome swimsuit photo before calling it a day.
Not all Sports Illustrated swimsuit models have to show off their bodies in skimpy outfits anymore.
Aden has truly changed the game, in the fiercest and most fabulous way possible. Seriously, how amazing is that burkini? Where can we get one?
Be sure to check out her spread in the SI swimsuit issue. This is a bold, wonderful new world we’re living in, and she’s an inspiration to us all.
…but for real for real, where can we get that swimsuit. It’s incredible.