The first hijab-wearing model to walk New York fashion week, Aden has since done campaigns for Nike and Fenty Beauty. She talks to Vogue Arabia about her experience.
“I started wearing the hijab to mimic my mother. I’ve always looked up to her and wanted to be like her. It was so special to share that with the woman I most admire. It wasn’t always easy, though – when I started wearing it in school, I was often teased. Those years were hard. I think it’s important to remember that wearing a hijab is a woman’s personal choice. It doesn’t make her any better or worse than another Muslim woman.
To me, it symbolizes modesty and gives me a sense of power. I do laugh, though, when women who wear the hijab still care about their hair – having a bad hair day underneath the scarf can make for a bad hijab day too! I think that’s something people don’t always understand. I am black, Muslim, Somali-American, a refugee, a woman… It’s important for me to never forget where I came from and to always have an eye on where I’m going. My career has really just begun – there’s so much more I want to accomplish. One of my life goals was to work with Unicef, so becoming an ambassador last year and returning to the refugee camp in Kenya where I was born, made my story come full circle. My platform as a model has allowed me to spread a message of acceptance and to give hope to the children in my refugee camp. Having once been on the receiving end of its services, I know that the work Unicef does can mean the difference between life and death. Working with Unicef and supporting its global mission is my top priority, but I would also love to continue modeling.
I’m lucky that brands are well aware of my wardrobe restrictions and expectations and I’ve been fortunate that crews go above and beyond to make sure I’m comfortable. I haven’t faced any challenges that made me question whether there’s a place for the hijab in the world of high fashion. While the industry has been supportive, I’ve faced negativity on social media. The unknown scares people. When someone isn’t educated on a topic, they tend to rely on stereotypes to form an opinion. I’ve tried to grow a thicker skin. I’ve never claimed to be the perfect Muslim girl; I’m just being the best version of me that I can be. What drives me is my commitment to people around the world who have never felt represented before. I think it’s our duty and responsibility not to wait to be invited to the conversation, but to initiate the conversation. Since day one, I’ve said, ‘Don’t change yourself, change the game.’”
Editor-in-Chief: Manuel Arnaut
Photography: Txema Yeste
Model: Halima Aden at IMG
Style: Katie Trotter
Makeup: Karim Raham