Firsts

Halima Aden

First hijab-wearing fashion model to walk international runway shows

‘Being your authentic self can break stereotypes.’

My first “first” came in high school, when I was crowned homecoming queen — no other Muslim student at my school had ever been chosen. For me to even be nominated, much less be crowned, meant so much. Students of color — especially the girls who are Muslim — saw that they could still have the American experience, and they didn’t need to conform. It showed that regardless of the hijab, if you’re kind to your classmates, they’re going to respect you and they’re going to want to support you. It was my first time thinking that I could have many other firsts.

Only two years ago I could never find a magazine with somebody who dressed like me who was wearing a hijab inside. Forget the cover — just inside. The fact that I’ve appeared on nine covers in just a year and a half of modeling just shows you how great the people in this industry truly are. And the narrative of what it means to be a Muslim American is changing.

Muslim women are talked about, but we aren’t always invited into the conversation. It’s time for us to stop waiting to be invited to the table, but really just pick up our own seat and just invite ourselves. We don’t need permission to enter the conversation.

People sometimes forget that just being your authentic self can break stereotypes. I was myself, and I’m seeing people’s views change around me. People will come up to me and be like, wow, I did not know we had this much in common. That just shows you how much we don’t really have Muslim women in the spotlight. We don’t really showcase all these incredible women who are doing positive things and who are a part of your community. We should all strive for inclusivity and to invite people who are different from us to hear our stories and to listen to theirs.

Look at me: I was born in a refugee camp and I’m living the American dream, just like so many people who came to this country generations before. It’s really the same story, and I think sometimes we forget that.

Before breaking barriers as a fashion model, Aden became the first to wear a hijab and a burkini while competing in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016.

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