Halima Aden – From Refugee Camp to Cover Star

Featured image credit: Halima Aden via Instagram.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, we have a thing for writing profiles on Muslims we are currently obsessed with. We’d make it a series and give it a name, but because the Muslims we’re regularly obsessed with cover fields as diverse as sport, science, politics and art it would be tough to pin down a snappy title for the feature.

Take our latest obsession, Halima Aden. Halima is a Somali-American model who’s quickly becoming a big name in the world of fashion. As we haven’t covered many models before, she might not have fit under a preordained blog title. So we’re keeping this thing name-free for now, because we know our Muslim obsessions can pop out from any industry.

But yeah, back to Halima. She’s the best. This is her story.

Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Halima moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota with her mother when she was seven. After she graduated from high school, Halima had plans to attend university which – as anyone with a scant knowledge of American higher education can tell you – is outrageously pricey for our pals across the pond. She needed a scholarship.

Halima decided to enter the 2016 Miss Minnesota USA pageant, as it awards scholarships to winners. Now, Halima was raised a Muslim and she chooses to dress modestly and wear a hijab. As such, she was slightly unsure about what she’d wear for the pageant’s swimsuit round. Halima asked the judges if she could wear something modest instead of the regular bikini. They obliged.

I’m taking over the Instagram for @voguearabia #halimavoguearabia

A post shared by Halima Aden (@kinglimaa) on

The Minnesota pageant didn’t exactly launch the now 19-year-old to global superstardom, but it did cause a few people in the fashion industry to take note. One year later, she was signed by model-booking powerhouse IMG, making her the first hijabi to be on the books of a major US agency. Since then, she’s appeared on the catwalk at the Yeezy show at this year’s New York Fashion Week and graced the cover of Vogue Arabia. In June, Halima appeared on the cover of Allure, making her the first hijab-wearing model to feature on the front of a major American fashion magazine:

As the Allure cover makes clear, Halima is smashing stereotypes. The fashion industry tends to have a very narrow interpretation of beauty, so seeing Halima in such high profile campaigns is not only great for her, but it’s also beneficial for fashion as a whole, as well as for any young Muslim women who don’t feel represented by the industry.

In her interview with Allure, Halima explained why she wears the hijab: ‘It’s how I interpret my religion…but there are women who are Muslim who choose not to wear the hijab. That’s something people often forget.’

She also described why the hijab protects her from the usual pressures imposed by the industry: ‘I have much more to offer than my physical appearance, and a hijab protects me against “You’re too skinny,” “You’re too thick,” “Look at her hips,” “Look at her thigh gap.” I don’t have to worry about that.’

Over the past year, we’ve written quite a bit about big brands launching their own lines of hijabs – Halima herself has already been snapped rocking the Nike hijab. Combine these two things and it looks like Muslim fashion and Muslim models are making their way into the mainstream. This is great, but we also hope it gets to a point where it’s normal enough to be NBD.

But for now, we’ve got to salute pioneers like Halima. She’s doing it her way and she’s doing it well. To know that she’s gone from refugee camp to the catwalk runway is a story that can inspire anyone, no matter their faith.

Be sure to follow Halima on Instagram.

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