Halima Aden lived in a refugee camp in Kenya until she was 7, and now she’s living the American dream, as she puts it. And she’s teaching others they can do the same in the process.
At 19, Aden was the first contestant to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota pageant, and since then, she’s been making headlines and walking fashion runways, spreading a message of inclusivity all the while. Now, at 21 years old, she’s hit a major milestone yet again. She’s making history as the first model to wear a hijab and burkini, a modest swimwear option that covers the body, in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that hits stands on May 8.
“We believe beauty knows no boundaries,” SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day said for the magazine. “We both believe the ideal of beauty is so vast and subjective. 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.”
Designer Cynthia Rowley said she felt excited to get to design a burkini for the shoot, proving that everyone involved was thrilled to get to be a part of Aden’s moment.
“When we were approached to create a custom burkini for Halima I was so honored,” the designer told Allure. “Halima is making strides in the industry through her powerful voice and she is now the first model in history to wear a burkini in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This moment in particular marks a huge win for women’s empowerment, shattering outdated standards of beauty and identity in the industry.”
As if covering the pages of the swimsuit issue wasn’t exciting enough for Aden, the shoot took place in Kenya, as a further representation of just how far she’s come.
“I keep thinking [back] to 6-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Halima said during her shoot, according to Sports Illustrated. “So to grow up to live the American dream [and] to come back to Kenya and shoot for SI in the most beautiful parts of Kenya — I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could make up.”
You can see a couple of the images from the spread through Sports Illustrated’s Instagram:
Aden couldn’t look more stunning in this colorful swimwear:
To hear her tell it, she’s honored to get to help other girls like her feel represented because that’s something she didn’t have growing up:
“This is literally a dream come true … I never really felt represented, because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” she said in an interview with Sports Illustrated:
To go from being virtually unrepresented to becoming a “burkini babe” in the pages of the most iconic swimwear magazine is incredible, but it didn’t always come easily.
In a video interview with Sports Illustrated, Aden admits to feeling afraid along the way, but she didn’t let that stop her.
“That’s always been my messaging: ‘Don’t be afraid to be the first,'” she said.
Sports Illustrated shared some of Aden’s words of wisdom on Instagram:
Aden isn’t the only model who has broken barriers with Sports Illustrated. Last year, a Paralympic snowboarder became the first amputee to walk the runway at the SI swimsuit show.
Be sure to check out Aden in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue on May 8.