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Sports Illustrated Features First Burkini-Clad Model in Latest Swimsuit Issue

Somali-American model, Halima Aden, has become the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the infamous Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue released on May 8th.

Aden’s spread features a photo shoot shot in Kenya where the model was born in the Kakuma Refugee Camp prior to moving to the United States when she was seven-years-old. During her shoot Halima said:

“I keep thinking [back] to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp. 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.”

This is not the first time that the magazine has pushed the boundaries of ‘typical beauty standards,’ having previously featured plus-sized models as well as a female MMA-fighter. However, this latest issue marks a huge progressive step forward for the publication, which most commonly features seductive-looking, scantily-clad models for their notorious swimsuit issue.

MJ Day, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor, put it best when she said, “Whether you feel your most beautiful and confident in a burkini or a bikini, YOU ARE WORTHY.”

This is not the first time that Halima has made headlines either. She previously competed in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016 where she was the first ever competitor to wear a burkini and hijab. She made it all the way to the semi-finals.

Aden was also the first Muslim student to be crowned homecoming queen at her high school.

What is a Burkini?

The term ‘burkini’ is a combination of the words bikini and burqa. It is a loose, long outer garment that some Muslim women choose to wear to the pool or beach. In simple terms, it can be described as a full-body bathing suit that covers everything but the hands, feet, and face. It can also be worn as athletic wear.

Lebanese Australia Aheda Zanetti is credited with inventing the garment in 2004 to accommodate her niece, who wanted to play sports while still being able wearing her hijab.

Released to Mixed Reviews

The shoot has elicited a large amount of attention from social media users and public figures alike, including Rep. Ilhan Oman, a Somali-American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, who congratulated Aden on Twitter:

“As my fellow Minnesotan and Somali refugee, I am so proud of you for working on getting here and on propelling the conversation forward.”

However, not all of the attention surrounding this issue has been overwhelmingly positive. Many are criticizing the shoot, showing Aden striking a sexy pose in a burkini, as well as the magazine itself, claiming that it only contributes to the even broader issue of objectifying women. They also point out that it is counterintuitive to the burkini’s original purpose, which is to preserve modesty.

Increased Representation

Aden recalls growing up in America and never feeling represented. She never flipped through a magazine and saw a girl wearing a hijab. She says in a video for Sports Illustrated, as she models several head-to-toe colourful designs;

“Don’t be afraid to be the first.”

Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, and it is a step in the right direction that massive publications like Sports Illustrated are finally taking notice and giving stunning models like Halima Aden a podium to advocate for equal representation in the beauty and modelling industry.

Uniformity is uncreative and boring, not to mention often devastating for young girls who feel the same as Aden did – underrepresented and not pretty because they do not see themselves reflected in modern media. It is ridiculous and sad and something that needs to be changed immediately.

That said, the modelling industry and issues surrounding its promotion of unrealistic body expectations of how people ‘should look’ is still a very toxic environment with problematic messaging, particularly for young people who now have access to more technology and exposure to these messages than ever before.

It is essential to love the skin you’re in, but that is easier said than done. Confidence does not come naturally to everyone and it may sound cliche, but it is true that true beauty comes from within. When you feel good about yourself on the inside, it shows on the outside.

It is also vital to remember that being kind, considerate and, most importantly, HAPPY far outweighs and outlasts being just ‘pretty.’

Emily Rumball

Emily is a freelance writer, blogger, tea addict, and animal lover based out of Vancouver, BC. You can follow her at and @callherem.