“I want girls like that to be able to flip through a magazine and see someone who looks like them,” says Aden.
You may not see her on every billboard or follow her on Instagram (although over 200k people do!), but there was one model during fashion week in February who was booking more sought-after gigs than anyone else: Halima Aden. The hijab-wearing, Somali-American model signed with the premiere modeling agency, IMG Models, walked in Kanye West’s season-five Yeezy fashion show and was featured on the cover of CR Fashion Book Issue 10 all in the same week! And her whirlwind entrance into the modeling world was just the beginning. She just landed her first editorial in Vogue‘s July issue and she’s more determined than ever to make her mark in the industry.
Aden said that she first starting wearing a hijab when she immigrated to St. Cloud, Minnesota from Somalia in 2005. Her reasoning behind the decision was simple. “I’d seen my mom wearing it, and I wanted to be like her,” she tells Vogue. And even though Aden has always known that her career and her culture could be harmonious, other people have had doubts.
When the magazine caught up with the model in her hometown, they watched as local hajiab-wearing Muslim women approached Aden to warn her that the industry may try to change or influence her to wear tighter, more revealing clothing – or lose her hajiab altogether – the longer she’s involved.
But according to Aden, the industry isn’t pressuring her to be anyone but herself. “I understand because it’s their daughters, too, whom I’m affecting. But no one in fashion is pressuring me.”
She points out that being her individual self is an asset to an industry that doesn’t have any other prominent hijab-wearing models. “I’m signed to one of the top agencies in the world,” she says. “They already have models who are willing to bare all, but there is only one right now who is wearing the hijab.”
And she’s excited to be paving the way for change in the business. “I want girls like that to be able to flip through a magazine and see someone who looks like them,” Aden said. “So why would I take my hijab off?”
Designer Alberta Ferretti agrees with Aden. The model walked in the brand’s fall 2017 runway because as Ferretti puts it, “… I thought, Why not give Halima the opportunity to walk in the show like any other modern woman?”
Ian Griffiths, creative director of Max Mara also understand the importance of showing a variety of different women on the runway, and Aden walked in the brand’s fall 2017 show. “If you walk down a top-end shopping street in any major city, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a Max Mara coat worn with a hijab,” Griffiths explained. “So why shouldn’t our runway reflect that too?”
While she may opt to dress conservatively, she thinks every woman should embrace their own personal style—whatever that may be. “I have a friend who dons the most revealing clothes,” she said. “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.”
With top brands and magazines rushing to feature Aden, her goal of having girls flip through a magazine and see people who look like them is already a reality. So naturally the next task on her to-do list is just as grand and impressive: get involved with UNICEF. She says she wants to help Somalia rebuild schools, museums and sports stadiums after the wreckage of war. If anyone can get such a task done, it’s Aden.
This article originally appeared on People.com.
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