Halima Aden is still stunned she’s made history.
The Somali-American model previously made headlines at age 19 when she competed in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant as the first person to ever wear a hijab and burkini during the show. She’s now also the first to pose for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit to wear that attire.
Born in Kenya at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, the 21-year-old moved to the United States at age 7. However, the magazine brought Aden back to her home country for her rookie spread on Watamu Beach with photographer Yu Tsai.
Aden, along with 31 other Sports Illustrated models, recently headed to Miami for “SI Swimsuit on Location,” a two-day ticketed exhibition which gave fans the opportunity to explore one-of-a-kind installations and photo experiences, among others. The magazine’s stars all celebrated at Mynt and Myn-Tu, the newly opened Japanese-French concept restaurant by Romain Zago next to the lounge. It was there where they candidly shared their experiences posing in the sizzling issue.
“This is the first time that Sports Illustrated has featured a woman wearing a hijab and burkini and this launch represents shattering perceptions,” Aden revealed at the venue’s red carpet affair. “I mean, look at the women and the caliber of women here. [Cover girls] Tyra Banks, Camille [Kostek], Alex [Morgan] — everybody here is shattering their own perceptions and breaking boundaries like never before and this is what [editor] MJ [Day] wants to celebrate. So, I’m so incredibly grateful to be a part of this.”
Aden shared she was thrilled to return to her roots for the magazine in hopes of inspiring others.
“I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya,” Aden explained. “So, to go back and shoot with Sports Illustrated in one of the most iconic beaches was absolutely mind-blowing. I’m just so grateful to MJ. The message she is sending is so timely and exactly what the world needs today.”
“My start was wearing the burkini on Miss Minnesota USA,” she continued. “So the burkini was a natural fit. And this is the perfect marriage. A woman wearing a burkini. SI. What it represents is to celebrate womanhood and powerful women — perfect marriage.”
In April, Aden told Fox News in a written statement that she couldn’t be prouder to pose in SI wearing a hijab and burkini.
“Being featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will have such a great impact on women and young girls who have never seen someone who looks like them represented in the public eye,” the Somali-American model told Fox News in a written statement. “SI Swimsuit has been at the forefront of changing the narrative and conversation on social issues and preconceived notions. I’m hoping this specific feature will open doors up for my Somali community, Muslim community, refugee community and any other community that can relate to being different.”
“This feature is proving that a fully covered hijab wearing model can confidently stand alongside a beautiful woman in a revealing bikini and together they can celebrate one another, cheer each other on, and champion each other’s successes,” Aden continued. “It’s also putting the burkini on the map which is imperative for young Muslim girls. They need to know that there is a modest swimsuit option available to them so they can join the swim team, participate in swim class at school, and go with their friends to the beach. Swimming is a life skill that everyone needs to know how to do. Now, Muslim girls should feel confident taking that step and doing so comfortably while wearing a burkini.”
The magazine reported Aden previously landed the covers of British Vogue, Allure, as well as walked on the New York Fashion Week runway.
“We believe beauty knows no boundaries,” said SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day. “I admire Halima, and I consider her an inspirational human for what she has decided to use her platform for and her work with Unicef as an ambassador. She is, in my opinion, one of the great beauties of our time, not only outside but inside. When we met, I was instantaneously taken by her intelligence, enthusiasm and authenticity.”
Day continued: “We both believe the ideal of beauty is so vast and subjective. We both know that women are so often perceived to be one way or one thing based on how they look or what they wear. Whether you feel your most beautiful and confident in a burkini or a bikini, YOU ARE WORTHY.”
Aden told the magazine that the idea of even being photographed for SI is she couldn’t have ever predicted in her wildest dreams.
“I keep thinking [back] to 6-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Aden said in the announcement from Sports Illustrated revealed Monday. “So to grow up to live the American dream [and] to come back to Kenya and shoot for SI in the most beautiful parts of Kenya — I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could make up.”
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is currently on newsstands.