After announcing she was quitting modelling in November 2020, Halima Aden has opened up about how she felt her hijab and her identity was being compromised in the world of fashion.
Sitting down with designer Tommy Hilfiger in an interview for BBC World Service, the 23-year-old recalled how she “ran into problems” when it came to her hijab during modelling jobs.
“The last two years, I trusted the team on set to do my hijab and that’s when I ran into problems,” she explained. “Like jeans being placed on my head in place of a regular scarf.
“The way they styled it, I was so far removed from my own image. My hijab kept shrinking and got smaller and smaller with each shoot.”
It’s safe to say Halima broke down many barriers after becoming the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016, after which she was consequently to IMG model.
It’s something she herself was excited about helping to open doors for women and girls in her own community, giving them to someone to identify with within the fashion world and in magazines, but it also caused her “internal conflict”.
“When I started I thought: ‘This is going to open the door for so many girls in my community,’” she recalled in the interview. “I never got to flip through a magazine and see someone in a hijab, so to be that person for other girls was a dream come true. But the last two years [of my career], I had so much internal conflict.”
During her time as a model, Halima would regularly work with Tommy Hilfiger. One particular groundbreaking moment was when he designed a burkini for her to wear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
While she noted that appearing on the cover “made quite the statement”, Halima felt she was walking on a “thin line”.
“I’d be upsetting members of the Muslim community,” she recalled. “[I would hear] comments like, ‘This burkini is way too form fitting’ and ‘Why would you shoot for a publication [like that]?’ It felt like I was constantly trying to appease my Muslim fans but also keeping it very fashionable.
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“Because young fans were messaging me saying: ‘We want to see you in new looks; we want to see your scarf [tied] differently.’”
While there’s clearly still work to be done, it’s safe to say Halima broke down many barriers during her time in the fashion industry and now she believes her taking a step back from the fashion world she’ll give many the courage and inspiration to speak out if there are issues that arise.
“If I’ve done anything I’ve given models the opportunity to speak up,” she said.
Inspiring younger models is something that’s incredibly important to Halima, as she told Emirates Woman last year.
“Being a role model is important to me, not just to the young girls in my Muslim or Somali communities, but to those who can relate to any part of my story,” she said.
“I feel very fortunate to be in this position and while it comes with an enormous amount of responsibility, at the end of the day, the best I can do is to just do me and be myself.”
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Images: Halima Aden Instagram