Model Halima Aden On Representing Muslim Women In The Mainstream Fashion World

When it comes to diversity, representation is everything. It’s easy to talk about the need to diversify, but what counts is when certain companies or industries make an actual effort to change the status quo. Fashion is one industry that has seen some massive changes over the past few years, with bloggers, social media influencers and body image activists encouraging conversations that have lead to major companies and designers realizing the need for more than just one perpetuated standard of beauty.

There are also numerous models who have been making major waves and standing out from the rest simply because they are representing parts of society that we are not used to seeing in major campaigns or advertising. One of those models is Halima Aden, 19. She has walked the runway for brands such as Yeezy, Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti, and modeled for brands such as Nike. Halima is also a Muslim woman, who proudly wears her hijab and isn’t afraid to ensure she wears clothing that doesn’t go against the faith she holds dear.

Halima is Somalian, born in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the United States at age 7 with her mom, where they settled in Minnesota. It seems she had an eye for beauty and fashion form a young age as she entered the Miss Minnesota USA pageant after high school, and was accepted. The only segment of the pageant she didn’t feel comfortable with was the swimsuit section, but the organizers were very accommodating with her modest sensibilities and allowed her to wear something more suitable.

No one had ever entered Miss Minnesota USA wearing a hijab before Halima, and while she only made it to the semi-finals, she was already on a winning path by choosing not to be afraid to step outside of her comfort zone.

In an interview with Allure Magazine, Halima talks about her faith, fashion, and the message she hopes to inspire other young Muslim with now that she is getting more exposure on bigger and bigger platforms. Allure’s Molly Young explains how Halima’s growing popularity is certainly very timely, but there is more to her presence than just politics.

“It is tempting to thrust meaning onto Aden, to label her, to turn her into propaganda. In a contentious political and social environment, it would be easy to see her as a poster child for the resistance. A woman in a hijab on the cover of a glossy beauty magazine (or walking down a major runway, for that matter) could be viewed as a counterweight to a Muslim ban. Is she a symbol? Maybe. But she doesn’t live a symbolic life; she lives a human life. If there is symbolism to be read into her, it is in our work, not hers,” she writes.

Halima was one of the models featured in Nike’s recent campaign promoting their very first pro Hijab collection, along with a handful of female Muslim athletes. And while Molly has a good point about not every prominent Muslim having to be a symbol of political resistance, what we saw with the Nike campaign certainly was political in the sense that it gave visibility to a demographic of women who are often stereotyped in negative ways by international news media, or in certain countries forbidden to participate in public life and sports.

And when dominant narratives around Muslim women come across as negative, simply seeing Halima Aden working for some major international fashion brands is a political statement in and of itself, positioning the idea of a Muslim woman as beautiful, fashionable, strong, aspirational, and all the other traits typically afforded other mainstream models.

Her defiance of typical beauty and societal standards includes nuanced perspectives of the hijab which specifically empowers young Muslim women while also breaking down stereotypes.

“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 says, adding she chose to wear one after looking up to her mom as a young girl.

She was bullied in school for wearing the hijab, but says it was probably not that different from other forms of bullying that other kids would’ve experienced.

“I had friends who weren’t wearing it, and they went through bullying, too. It was a tough time — everyone just wanted to be mean…If you think people are against you and that you’re a target, things will start appearing that way. I just go about my day, and I don’t think anyone is out to get me,” she said.

Halima says the decision to wear a hijab and modest clothing was also her personal way of escaping the common pressures faced by women when it comes to being judged for their appearance.

“Society puts so much pressure on girls to look a certain way. 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,” she said.

But she is also quick to jump to the defense of other people’s clothing choices also, recognizing it is down to personal taste and not shaming others for being different.

“I have a friend who dons the most revealing clothes. And I’m like, Girl, if that’s what makes you feel happy and beautiful—go ahead. I’m willing to stand up for her. But it’s ironic because people will slut-shame her, but then apparently they think I’m oppressed because I choose to do the opposite and cover my body,” she said in a Vogue.com interview.

She is signed to IMG Models, the same agency that represents Ashley Graham, Alek Wek, the Hadid sisters and Gisele Bundchen. Halima says she sometimes speaks to other women in the Muslim community who are worried that the longer she is in the industry, the more she will be convinced to change her appearance and compromise on her personal beliefs, but she doesn’t agree.

“I understand because it’s their daughters, too, whom I’m affecting. But no one in fashion is pressuring me. I’m signed to one of the top agencies in the world. They already have models who are willing to bare all, but there is only one right now who is wearing the hijab,” she said.

“I want girls like that to be able to flip through a magazine and see someone who looks like them. So why would I take my hijab off?” she added.

From Kenya to Minnesota, to the runways of New York and Milan among others, Halima is certainly a visual representation of the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Aside from her fashion career, she would like to work with UNICEF and see Somalia build more schools, museums and sports stadiums, many of which were destroyed during war. But for now, her home is America and she wants to continue the work of bringing much needed diversity that goes beyond the pages of a fashion magazine or a runway.

“I see how powerful [fashion] is. I’m able to reach people who may never have met a Muslim person before, but they hear my story, and they get to know something about Somali-Americans,” she said.

 

 

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  1. Pingback: How A Shared Filipino-American Heritage & Love For Fashion Led To Female Duo Starting A Label - GirlTalkHQ

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