“Roughly one year ago, Denise Wallace, executive co-director of the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, received a phone call from 19-year-old Halima Aden asking if she could compete in the contest wearing her hijab,” according to Reuters. “Her photo popped up and I remember distinctly going, ‘Wow, she is beautiful,’” Wallace said. Shortly thereafter, Aden made headlines as the first person on the history of the pageant to wear a hijab and burkini.
While the hijab is becoming increasingly common in the fashion industry (Dolce & Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Oscar de la Renta, and Monique Lhuillier, along others, have put out Muslim-specific collections – or as they are being coined “modest” collections), Aden is breaking barriers. Born in Kakuma, a United Nations refugee camp in Kenya, Aden came to the United States at age 7 with her family. In February 2017, she become the first hijab-wearing model signed by a major agency. She is signed with management powerhouse IMG in New York, Milan, and London.
This past year, alone, Aden has appeared on the covers of Allure, Glamour, Vogue Arabia, and CR Fashion Book, among other big-name magazines. She walked in Kanye West’s Fall/Winter 2017 runway show for his Yeezy collection, and as of this week, she appears in the ad campaign for Rihanna’s brand new Fenty Beauty line.
While Aden says she is happy to be a champion for diversity in the modeling industry, she does not necessarily see herself as different than anyone else. She told Reuters, “I wear the hijab everyday. I am doing me.”
Allure magazine’s editor-in-chief, Michelle Lee, echoes this notion, describing Aden as a “normal American teenage girl” on the front cover of the magazine’s July issue. “She is someone who is so amazingly representative of who we are as America, as a melting pot it totally made sense for us,” Lee said.
But while Aden might be a normal American girl in a sense – she was a straight A-student in high school and the homecoming queen – she is also one of the most visible forces in fashion that is pushing for the acceptance of Muslim women. Or as Aden, herself, puts it, “Every little girl deserves to see a role model that’s dressed like her, resembles her, or even has the same characteristics as her.”
Thanks to Aden, that now includes seeing hijab-wearing models on magazine covers, in ad campaigns, and on the runway.