Halima Aden says wearing a burkini for Sports Illustrated 'had nothing to do with men, but everything to do with women'

Alicia Vrajlal
Model Halima Aden at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.
Model Halima Aden at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia. Photo: Getty

At the age of just 21, model Halima Aden has taken the fashion world by storm as the first to wear a hijab and burkini in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition.

The Somali-American, who moved to the US as a child refugee when she was six, says her quest to encourage greater representation in the industry comes with a lot of thought and responsibility.

“Ultimately this affects women, and my choice to be in Sports Illustrated had nothing to do with men, but everything to do with women and girls,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia.

“It’s not easy being the first... it’s different and such a unique position to be in but I always think, ‘If not me, who will?’”

Constantly flooded with messages from fans since her trailblazing shoot, Halima says she practices the advice she preaches to them as she “can’t be a hypocrite”.

“I always tell girls, ‘If you can’t find anybody that looks like you that you can relate to, if you don’t see a space that has somebody who has a similar story, be that person. Bring your own seat to the table. Don’t wait for someone else to represent you’,” explains Halima.

“Don’t change yourself, change the game. That’s what keeps me going.”

The rising star describes her Sports Illustrated shoot as “life coming full circle” after she launched her modelling career by wearing a hijab and burkini at the 2016 Miss Minnesota USA pageant.

To do it again on a “global scale” has been “life-changing” for the model, and an opportunity to educate both Muslim and non-Muslim people.

“Why I wanted to pose in Sports Illustrated was to really show the world that a woman wearing a burkini could be sitting right alongside someone who is wearing a bikini, and why can’t we celebrate both women despite what they choose to wear,” she says.

“People are like, ‘Where do I get this from?’ Non-Muslim women are messaging me and saying, ‘Where can I get this swimsuit because I tan very easy or I get sunburnt or I don’t want to wear a two-piece?’,” she reveals.

“So it’s been exciting to see the excitement, not just from Muslim women and young Muslim girls who want to go out for swim classes or compete in their school swim teams, but also to see the genuine excitement from women who are outside of that Muslim community who want to try on a burkini.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 16: Halima Aden (centre) attends the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia official closing party on May 16, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James Gourley/Getty Images)
Halima with Australian models Akiima and Agi Akur at the MBFWA closing party in Sydney. Photo: Getty

“I feel like my entire career so far has been educating on both sides,” she continues, explaining just how important it’s been to raise awareness within her own community.

“Even Muslims in my Muslim community, who at the time thought it was contrasting to be a model and also a hijabi – what I’m always telling girls is, both worlds are compatible and ultimately it’s your passion, go for it.

“I’m doing it in a way that I’m not compromising who I am, I’m not compromising my integrity, I’m sharing my story.”

Halima walking at New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Photo: Getty
Halima walking at New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Photo: Getty

With her latest modelling gig having put her on the international map, Halima was Huawei’s special guest in the front row at MBFWA’s Carla Zampatti closing show last night.

“I can’t spill the tea right now,” she says of her next plans. “Who knows what the future holds.”

One thing’s for sure, this isn’t the latest time we’ll be seeing her breaking down barriers in the fashion world.

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