Follow Vogue Arabia

Somali-American Model Halima Aden on Her Upcoming Memoir and Personal Evolution

The Somali-American model is ready for her close up. From being the first veiled woman on the cover of Vogue to acting classes, and a memoir on the way, she reflects on her personal evolution.

Dress, Dima Ayad. Photo: Nima Benati

Halima Aden is planning to show a lot more of herself this year. Though she’ll still be dressing modestly and wearing the hijab, as she’s done since the age of seven, she no longer wants to be defined exclusively by this choice. Forever grateful for the platform that has come with being the first model to wear a hijab on the cover of Vogue [Vogue Arabia June 2017], Aden believes it’s time to be honest about the not-so-pretty side of redefining traditional beauty standards.

“I’m [also] a person at the end of the day and I have passions outside of just being a Muslim woman,” the Somali-American model explains over Zoom, offering the example of her work with refugees through organizations such as RefuSHE and Unicef. “I hope I can share more of my personality so people can see me for who I am.” When asked about the online backlash she received last year after styling her head covering in a way that exposed face-framing tendrils, she emphasizes that her relationship to the garment is personal and evolving. Public scrutiny is tough, but it presents an opportunity for nuanced discussion too. “I remain committed to shedding light on important issues and sparking meaningful conversations, including the complexities of wearing the hijab,” she says. “I hope that by sharing my perspective, I can contribute to greater understanding and acceptance in our society.”

Jumpsuit, Lama Jouni; earrings, Cartier. Photo: Nima Benati

Aden joins the call after a rainy afternoon of fittings ahead of New York Fashion Week. Donning a glamorous black-on-black ensemble, impeccable makeup, and the megawatt smile that has landed her several major magazine covers, she divulges that she’ll be front row at Tommy Hillfiger and Carolina Herrera and on the runway at Sergio Hudson. It’s been nearly a year since she last spoke to Vogue Arabia about her hiatus from the industry in order to better understand her place within it as a woman of faith. Now, with the support of a solid team around her in communicating and maintaining professional boundaries, she’s very much back in the spotlight albeit on her own terms — and with big plans underway.

The model is broadening the practice of transforming someone else’s creative vision into a reality by taking acting classes. She’s also been writing. The 26-year-old feels closer to 65 because of the many lives she’s lived since spending her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp, moving to America with her family, and being catapulted into instant stardom after competing in the 2016 Miss Minnesota USA pageant and signing with IMG Models. Following two years of therapy to unpack this extraordinary trajectory for herself, Aden is ready to put it all on the page in a forthcoming memoir. As an advocate for mental health awareness — she spoke at the 2023 One Young World conference on the topic and has partnered with Snapchat to tackle related issues in the digital realm — she wants her book to remind others that every journey has its twists and turns; its sunshine and storms. “People look on Instagram or they see you on a magazine shoot and you look absolutely gorgeous, and they just assume life is perfect. But I think that’s when we owe it to each other to be more open about our struggles [behind the scenes]. There’s no shame.”

Photo: Nima Benati

Aden is also delving into the beauty world and establishing new channels of communication with her fans. This will include makeup tutorials featuring what she’s absorbed from industry legends like Sir John and Kita. “Obviously I’m not showing my hair, but I still want to show up and feel beautiful in my face. I never want to send the message that you need makeup to be beautiful. That’s not what I stand for. But it’s fun and it’s another way to express yourself.”

So what does Aden stand for when it comes to beauty? It’s been a “delicate dance” between what she was raised to believe about appearances — to value what’s on the inside instead and focus on how you treat others — and what she’s grown to appreciate about clothing and makeup through the lens of her career. Writing a book that grapples with these differing philosophies has opened Aden’s eyes to what she deems her most beautiful quality: her resilience. This is what she wants others to see when they look at her above all else.

Dress, Mrs Keepa. Photo: Nima Benati

Originally published in the March 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Amine Jreissati
Makeup: Michel Kiwarkis
Fashion market editor: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Digital operator: Massimo Fusardi
Photography assistant: Ramir Tullao
Producer: Sam Allison

View All
Vogue Collection