Somali-American fashion model Halima Aden – who has fronted campaigns for the likes of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Kanye West’s Yeezy – is quitting runway shows, saying the industry has forced her to compromise her religion.
Aden, who was hailed as a trailblazer for being one of the first models to wear a hijab and walk for major fashion labels including Kanye West’s Yeezy, posted a series of images on social media that illustrated the times she had lost touch with who she is (from missing prayer times to being draped with pairs of jeans for a head covering).
“I can only blame myself for caring more about opportunity than what was actually at stake,” she wrote on Instagram Stories.
When Aden made her modelling debut at New York Fashion week in 2017, aged just 19, she became an overnight star after being hailed as the world’s first Muslim hijab-wearing supermodel.
The 23-year-old, who was born to Somali parents in a Kenyan refugee camp, is considered a trailblazer after featuring on the covers of British Vogue, Vogue Arabia and Allure.
However, despite the success, Aden said the high fashion industry had made her lose the sense of “the real Halima” and made her re-evaluate her modelling career.
Aden – who is signed to IMG Models – posted a series of Instagram stories detailing the struggles that came with her line of work while balancing her identity as a practising Muslim woman.
She told her 1.2m followers that the COVID-19 pandemic gave her the opportunity to reflect on her values and helped her realise that had she continued down her current path, she may have stopped wearing and embodying the values attached to her hijab “completely”.
In another post, Aden spoke about the feeling that comes from being “a minority within a minority”, adding: “What I do blame the industry for is the lack of Muslim women stylists.” She said this had led to very little understanding of the hijab within the fashion industry.
Aden said: “As I’ve said many times… being a minority inside of a minority inside of a minority is never easy.
“Being a ‘hijabi’ is truly a journey with lots of highs and lows.”
After she made her first break, the model was keen to represent her faith and community on a mainstream platform – writing that she was “so desperate” for any “representation” that she had “lost touch” with who she was.
Last year, she told the Observer that her hijab was a non-negotiable in her contract with the modelling agency IMG. “It’s not because I don’t think people are going to listen – it’s more so they know what to expect,” she said. In other social media posts, Aden wrote about feeling the weight of being the most high-profile modest fashion model.
“Fellow Muslim sisters would send me DMs and even publicly tag me at the start of my career to say ‘stop dressing like an old woman’… which made me feel like I was doing something wrong … I remember wanting to be the ‘hot hijabi’ as if that didn’t just defeat the whole purpose,” she wrote. “A hot mess is what it was truthfully.”
Aden shot to fame in 2016 following her turn in the Miss USA beauty pageant, when she caught the eye of the fashion editor Carine Roitfeld. She soon signed to the global modelling agency IMG and made her runway debut at New York fashion week where she walked for Kanye West’s Yeezy and Maxmara.
Eighteen months ago, Halima set conversations about modesty and fashion alight with both critics and supporters when she became the first headscarf-wearing model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Halima Aden Facts:
Halima Aden born on September 19, 1997, in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, Height 5 ft 5.5 in (1.66 m).
In 2016, Aden received national media attention after competing in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, becoming the first contestant in the pageant to wear a burkini and a hijab. Some analysts saw this as a move towards diversification in the modelling industry.
In 2017 she signed contract with IMG Models.
In 2018 Halima Aden became a UNICEF ambassador. Her work is focused on children’s rights.
She has been model on the cover of Vogue Arabia, Allure, British Vogue.