Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue To Feature First Hijab-Wearing Model

A Somali American woman has become the first model to wear a hijab and burkini in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.

The magazine announced on Monday that Halima Aden, 21, will be one of the models featured in the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue on May 8. The Muslim model was born in Kenya at the Kakuma Refugee Camp and moved to the United States at age 7. Aden returned to Kenya for her Sports Illustrated (SI) photoshoot and posed at Watamu Beach for photographer Yu Tsai.

“I keep thinking [back] to 6-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Halima told the publication. “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.” The magazine published a video of Aden on Twitter, in which the model said appearing in the magazine is “a dream come true.”

“Growing up in the States, I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” Aden said in the video.

Aden has had many firsts in her career. At 19, she became the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant and was a semi-finalist in the competition, SI reported. She signed with IMG models in 2017 and has landed the covers of British Vogue, Allure, and Teen Vogue. The model has also walked for New York Fashion Week. She landed the March cover of Paper magazine, tweeting that she was “[So] honored to be @papermagazine’s March cover girl!”

In July, she became a UNICEF ambassador to help advocate for children’s rights. “I’ve seen UNICEF’s incredible, impactful work for children first-hand. When I was young, UNICEF gave me an education, empowering myself, my family and our community in the process. It’s an honor to have this platform with UNICEF USA and I look forward to advocating for children around the world, just as others advocated for me,” Aden previously said in a press release.

MJ Day, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor, told SI that he admires Aden. Day called her an “inspirational human” for her work with Unicef and using her modeling career to inspire other women. “We bonded immediately over the idea of her participating in this year’s issue,” he told the publication. “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.”

In 2016, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American to compete in a hijab and the first Muslim American woman to win an Olympic medal for the USA Fencing Team, The Guardian previously reported.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.