Model Halima Aden is Quitting the Runway Over Disrespect to Her Hijab
"If my hijab can't be this visible—I'm not showing up."
In a set of Instagram Story posts uploaded to her account on November 25th, Halima Aden, the first model to appear in a hijab and burkini in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, said that she will be distancing herself from the modeling industry. Aden, a Somali-American from Minnesota (and Miss Minnesota semi-finalist), wrote that her modeling work often clashed with her religious beliefs and she felt as though she had to compromise her comfort and personal belief system when working within the fashion world.
"They could call me tomorrow and not even for $10 million would I ever risk compromising my hijab ever again," Aden wrote in one of her Story posts, per CNN, calling the challenges she faced a "toxic mess called fashion." She also noted that she has decided to quit walking runway shows for fashion months altogether, noting "that's where all the bad energy came from."
The Instagram account @Diet_Prada reposted Aden's Story from the 25th in which she recounted how she was forced to be someone else to fit what the industry wanted. Rihanna's Fenty Beauty was one of the few brands that let her wear the hijab she brought to set—the one that she felt most comfortable in.
"I used to justify a LOT," Aden wrote in following posts. "As if we ever needed these brands [like American Eagle, which sells a denim hijab] to represent Hijabis. THEY need US...But I was just so desperate back then for any "representation" that I lost touch with who I was."
In a series of photos from various fashion shoots, Aden pointed out how her hijab was often replaced for a less-conservative headscarf, which is not technically a hijab. "I should have just politely declined this because where is the HIJAB?" she captioned a photo of herself dressed as Vermeer's "The Girl with a Pearl Earring."
Aden wrote that she was thrilled to be able to participate at the time of these shoots, but now, looking back, she realized the cost to do so may have been too much. "I should have said...'go back to the drawing board. Where's my scarf? The one that covers my chest!' The truth is I was very UNCOMFORTABLE. This just ain't me."
"I remember wanting to be the 'hot hijabi' as if that didn't just defeat the whole purpose," she wrote. "I had to make those mistakes to be the role model you all can trust," Aden added, noting that she had no one before her paving the way for Hijabi models.
She wrote, "I did good, but that isn't enough. We gotta have these conversations in order to change the system truly."
Aden has dedicated a highlight on her Instagram page to her hijab story and how she plans to move forward with her activism and career. She's not done with the fashion world completely, but she's building a new foundation on which the industry can build on. "If my hijab can't be this visible—I'm not showing up," she wrote in her Story. "This is the standard moving forward if you want to work with me. Come correct or don't come at all."
No one should ever be made to change their religious garb or personal comfort and beliefs just to fit an industry standard. Those standards should be reexamined and retrofitted for individual people and their individual ways of living.