Hijab-wearing model Halima Aden opens up, detailing why she called it quits

Halima Aden has appeared in various campaigns for fashion brands with her hair covered. She is recognised for breaking barriers in the modelling industry. Photo: Filepic

Halima Aden's rise to superstardom in fashion was more than impressive. In little more than three years, the Somali-American model went from being the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant to one of the most sought after faces for runway shows and ad campaigns.

Aden wore a head covering on the cover of Allure and British Vogue (2017 and 2018 respectively) – a first for those publications. She was the first model in a burkini photographed for the 2019 edition of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.

Then the 23-year-old quit. This was in November last year, after reaching dizzying heights in a career that began in 2017. She announced on Instagram she was "not rushing back to the fashion industry”.

Her Instagram account mysteriously disappeared a month or so after.

In an interview with BBC published this week, Aden now explains that while her "career was seemingly on top", she was "mentally not happy".

Read more: Hijab-wearing model Halima Aden quits fashion over religious views

She cites reasons of how her hijab requirements were being stretched to a breaking point.

Her hijabs reportedly got smaller and smaller in shoots, sometimes even replaced with items of clothing. In one instance, her head was wrapped with jeans.

When she signed a contract with IMG Models three years ago, she had a clause added making it compulsory for her to wear a hijab. She also asked for a guarantee of a blocked-out box during shows and shoots, allowing her to get dressed in private.

She also felt responsible for other hijab-wearing models following in her footsteps – of whom, she says were not treated with respect.

A 2017 file photo showing Halima Aden walking the Max Mara runway. Photo: APA 2017 file photo showing Halima Aden walking the Max Mara runway. Photo: APAden reveals that she often had to act like a big sister and protect other hijab-wearing models at events. She says the industry can be "creepy".

Another reason that led to her quitting is her mother, who has pleaded for her to "open her eyes".

Aside from religious beliefs, Aden adds that she was missing holidays with her family due to work.

"In the first year of my career I was able to make it home for Eid and Ramadan but in the last three years, I was travelling. I was sometimes on six to seven flights a week. It just didn't pause," she tells BBC.

'Zero excitement'

Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Aden moved to the US with her family at age seven and was the first Muslim homecoming queen at her high school in Minnesota, plus the first Somali student senator at her college.

As a model, she graced runways for big fashion houses like Burberry, Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti. She also walked in numerous fashion weeks.

It seems part of the problem Aden has with fashion is to do with the loss of her own identity. She says that she sometimes does not recognise herself in ad campaigns and fashion spreads.

"I had zero excitement because I couldn't see myself. Do you know how mentally damaging that can be to somebody?

"When I'm supposed to feel happy and grateful and I'm supposed to relate, because that's me, that's my own picture, but I was so far removed."

Read more: Will inclusivity be the watchword in fashion for 2021?

Aden has also quit working with Unicef (United Nations Children's Fund). She feels jaded, explaining that the organisation focused more on its brand than on children's education.

"I just decided I'm done with the NGO world using me for 'my beautiful story of courage and hope'."

Perhaps the most important thing that Aden cherishes now is the freedom to be herself. In the recent BBC interview, she says it was the most comfortable she has ever felt.

"Because I didn't spend 10 hours getting ready, in an outfit I couldn't keep."

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fashion , models , Halima Aden , diversity


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