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  • Halima Aden at the amfAR charity dinner in Milan, Italy.

    Halima Aden at the amfAR charity dinner in Milan, Italy. | Photo: EFE

Published 1 May 2019

Aden hopes her appearance in the issue will help advance diversity and equal representation in order to inspire Muslim women to feel confident expressing their identities wherever they go.

Twenty-one-year-old Somali-American model Halima Aden will be featured in Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue on May 8 as the first woman to don a hijab and full-body burkini.

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Aden hopes her appearance in the issue will help advance diversity and equal representation in order to inspire Muslim women to feel confident expressing their identities wherever they go, whether it be on the playing field or in public spaces in general. The Muslim model was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and moved to the United States at the age of seven. 

The photoshoot for the upcoming issue, photographed by American photographer Yu Tsai, was located at Watamu Beach to pay tribute to the model's roots.

Aden recalls "never really [feeling] represented because [she] never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab." On Instagram, she called the experience of being featured in Sports Illustrated as "so much bigger than me," as it sends "a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings ... can stand together and be celebrated."

"I'm hoping this specific feature will open doors up for my Somali community, Muslim community, refugee community and any other community that can relate to being different," the model stated.

She also advocates for the garment worn in the photoshoot - the controversial burkini. While the burkini has praise from the Muslim community for promoting inclusivity in athletic activities, it has also received opposition in secularist nations such as France and Denmark. 

Aden stresses that "young Muslim women need to know that there is a modest swimsuit option available to them so they can join the swim team, participate in swim class at school, and go with their friends to the beach."

Ironically, while the burkini garners criticism for encouraging "those who tolerate women in a public space only when they hide," according to Aurore Berge, member of Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) Party, Aden received criticism for appearing in a publication that "objectifies women". 

This is not Aden's first time receiving recognition for introducing the hijab to the mainstream. In 2016, she was the first woman to participate in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant while wearing the traditional religious headscarf.

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