Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue has a history of celebrating women who conform to narrow beauty standards — thin, toned, tan. But with the inclusion of more women of varying sizes and skin tones, the magazine has recently been working toward greater representation.
Now, with this year’s edition, they seem to be stepping it up even more. Sports Illustrated has announced that 21-year-old model Halima Aden will be featured in their next swim issue, which will make her the first Muslim model to wear a hijab and burkini (the full-coverage swimsuit worn by Muslim women) in the much-anticipated annual publication.
“We strive to continue to spread the message that whether you are wearing one-piece, a two-piece, or a burkini, you are the pilot of your own beauty,” the Sports Illustrated team wrote in a statement.
“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.”
Aden, who was also the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, posted the incredible news on her Instagram with the caption: “Don’t change yourself .. Change the GAME!! Ladies anything is possible!!! Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me. It’s sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings… can stand together and be celebrated. Thank you so much @si_swimsuit & the entire team for giving me this incredible opportunity.”
She’s absolutely right. Her feature in Sports Illustrated is obviously a huge step in her career, but it also sends a larger message to girls and women everywhere. “Growing up in the United States, I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” Aden said in a behind-the-scenes video. “Don’t be afraid to be the first.”
Before moving to the United States, Halima Aden grew up in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp (her Sports Illustrated photos were shot on Kenya’s Watamu Beach, a nod to her native country). After becoming a semi-finalist in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she was signed to IMG models and went on to become the first hijab-wearing model on the cover of Vogue Arabia,Allure, British Vogue, and now, Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue.
It’s shaping up to be a good year for women and diversity, and we can’t wait to see what Aden and other ground-breaking women like her achieve next.