Today’s article is on a woman you might have seen in the last few years if you are into fashion: Hamila Aden.
Aden was the first hijab-wearing supermodel but ended her career last year. Her religion and hijab are part of her and also a prominent part of her appearance in the fashion industry: during all her shoots, walks and public events she wore her hijab. This part of her makes her such an important figure for society: she acts as a role model to many. This however did not make her change her mind about leaving the fashion industry behind her. Even after resigning, she still has a great impact on the diversity of the fashion world and played an important part in opening up this exclusive, and very white space.
Want to know more about her career in fashion, her personal story and why she would not stay part of the fashion industry any longer? Go ahead and check out the full article below!
Halima Aden| *19-09-1997 | Somalia/ USA | Fashion Model
In November 2020, Halima Aden, the first hijab-wearing supermodel, announced that she would be leaving the fashion industry because it contradicts her Muslim religion. This may seem a tough choice for a fashion model who is on top of her career, walks the most famous fashion shows, and stars on the cover of major magazines, but for Halima, it certainly was not. Despite truly believing that she could be a role model for all girls of the same background who pursue modelling careers, over the years she realised that the fashion industry in itself was not ready to show the beauty of Muslim women as sincerely and truthfully as possible.
Halima Aden was born in Kakuma, the refugee camp in Kenia. Raised by her mother, she was told that she must always work hard and help others. At the age of seven, Halima moved with her parents and sister to Saint Louis in the United States. However, she did not feel at home as she only spoke Somali and Swahili, which prevented her from understanding her English lessons at school. As a result, they moved to Saint Cloud, Minnesota, a year later. Here she attended a school with an English immersion program and her teachers were dedicated to helping her find success in the classroom. Although she really enjoyed going to school to learn new things, as she got older and started wearing her hijab in high school, she was also bullied for not fitting in. However, one of the proudest moments Halima holds, as stated by herself, is that she was her high school’s first homecoming queen to wear a hijab.
Feeling that she wanted to give a voice to those girls and women who, like her, felt they were underrepresented, Halima took part in Miss Minnesota USA 2016 as the first Somali-American contestant, wearing a hijab and burkini. She eventually became semi-finalist. As a result, Halima received many messages from girls and women who felt inspired by her power to stay true to herself. Her participation in the pageant opened many doors, including an invitation from Carine Roitfeld to come to New York to shoot her first editorial. This was the start of her career as the first hijab wearing supermodel. While Halima’s mother felt that a modelling career contradicted her background as a black Muslim refugee, the humanitarian aspects of Halima’s career somewhat convinced her mother that it was right to engage in it. Halima stated about her career: “I want this to be greater than me. Every editorial, every cover, every campaign that I do is as much for me as it is for women in my community”.
In 2018, Halima became an UNICEF ambassador and committed to children’s rights. With this, she expected to give displaced children the hope that one day, like her, they could get away from the refugee camp. However, as time went on, Halima realised that since she was young, UNICEF had not changed in its approach to displaced children; the focus was still mainly on its brand rather than on children’s education. At the same time, Halima increasingly began to question her modelling work, as the growing high demands of the fashion industry meant that she could spend less time with her family. In addition, Halima found that she lost control of the clothes she wore and strayed from her ideals about her hijab by wearing smaller and smaller pieces of different fabrics instead of her hijab. Furthermore, Halima found that, although she contractually demanded to dress in a private space, other hijab-wearing models were treated with less respect and had to change in a bathroom. So she realised that her successors were not treated as equal. Although Halima’s career was skyrocketing, she suffered mentally from not fully embodying what she originally envisioned; Halima stated that she no longer recognized herself when she saw pictures of herself in magazines, making it impossible for her to proudly show the world what she achieved while remaining true to herself.
As the Covid-19 pandemic caused Halima to return to her family and friends back home in Saint Cloud, she began to think about her life choices and career path by asking herself if it really brought her happiness. This resulted in Halima quitting her work for UNICEF and her work for the fashion industry in November last year. However, Halima has not been idle since then. She had an executive-producing role in a film inspired by the true story of a refugee fleeing the war in Afghanistan and she stated that she wants to continue volunteering, not as a model or celebrity, but as her own true self: Halima from Kakuma. For the time being she first takes a well-deserved rest so that she has more time for herself and can spend a lot of time with her family.
Author: Daphne Janssen
Image: Myles Kalus Anak Jihem