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Halima Aden Chooses Faith Over Fashion

By Danya Issawi

Halima Aden at a New York Fashion Week party in September 2019.
Nina Westervelt for The New York Times
Halima Aden at a New York Fashion Week party in September 2019.

Halima Aden, a model, is taking a step back from the fashion industry to focus on herself and her faith.

“If my hijab can’t be this visible — I’m not showing up,” Ms Aden, 23, wrote on Instagram.

Ms Aden, who was the first model to wear a hijab for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition and walk the runway for labels like Yeezy, shared on her Instagram story this week that she felt like she had compromised her religious values and beliefs in order to fit in to the fashion industry.

She alluded to being too scared to speak up when she was influenced to change the way she dressed, including how she wore her headscarf.

“Looking back now I did what I said I would never do. Which is compromise who I am in order to fit in,” Ms Aden wrote on the social media platform. “Just remember they call it a ‘hijab journey’ for a reason and it is never too late to reinstate your boundaries.”

The Somali-American model was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and first rose to fame in 2016 after competing in her hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. Since then, she’s been on the covers of American Vogue, Vogue Arabia, Elle and Allure.

There was, she said, struggle and discomfort that went into making many of those images a possibility. She also highlighted moments in which brands had instead covered her hair with pairs of jeans or other ornamental objects rather than her hijab and used heavy makeup on her when she would have preferred a more restrained look that aligned with her modest principles.

She cited confusion, a sense of rebellion and a lack of fellow Muslim representation in the industry as leading factors in her internal battle.

“The pressure was getting unbearable, and I’m sad to say I went through a period of resenting the hijab,” Ms Aden wrote on Instagram. She went on to write that the pandemic and a break from the industry had led her to realise where she felt she went wrong in her own hijab journey.

Muslim women who choose to don a headscarf often have deeply personal and dynamic relationships with their hijabs, and Ms Aden was met with a wave of support from many who had similar experiences on Instagram and Twitter.


Krista Schlueter for The New York TimesHalima Aden at the UNICEF holiday gala in December 2019.
Halima Aden at the UNICEF holiday gala in December 2019.

Asmaa Ali, 23, an observant hijab-wearer for much of her life, has experienced Islamophobia both in-person and online, but said she felt inspired by Ms Aden’s message and tweeted that she found the model’s story “beautiful.”

“The decision to take her hijab more seriously really inspired me to hold on to my faith and be unapologetic about my identity as a Black, Muslim woman,” Ms Ali said. “I think the essence of what Halima was talking about is not necessarily that there’s a right way to wear a hijab or a wrong way to wear a hijab. I think the message is to stay true to yourself.”

Fellow hijabi models like Ikram Abdi Omar also weighed in on how Ms Aden’s public revelation had impacted them.

“Honestly, Halima Aden’s Instagram story posts brought me to tears and I started looking back on my old pictures on Instagram and I miss that Ikram more than anything,” Ms Abdi Omar shared on her Instagram story.

Rihanna, Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid also reposted Ms Aden’s story on their own Instagrams. Gigi Hadid wrote: “It is so important, as a hijabi or not, to self reflect and get back on track with what feels genuine to us — it’s the only way to feel truly fulfilled.”

Ms Aden and her longtime agency, IMG Models, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. According to her stories on the platform, the model plans to stop doing runway shows and travelling for fashion season.

“I owe no one but Allah SWT,” she wrote — the letters stand for the Arabic phrase “Subhanahu wa ta’ala,” meant to glorify God when mentioning his name. “And y’all can literally kick rocks.”