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When we think of pop culture institutions that are shattering gender and social stereotypes, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition isn’t the first thing to jump into our mind. But the magazine has been making strides in recent years to present a more inclusive group of models, featuring a more racially diverse makeup of women and the inclusion of plus-sized models, like Ashley Graham and Hunter McGrady. Now the famous SI Swimsuit edition is again making history, this time by featuring model Halima Aden in a hijab and burkini.

A practising Muslim, Halima will appear in the 2019 edition of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, with images from the recent photoshoot in Kenya shared this week on social by SI and Halima. It was a fitting location for Halima’s groundbreaking shoot, as the American-Somali model was born in Kenya at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, where she lived until the age of six before immigrating to the US with her family.


“I keep thinking [back] to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Halima told Sports Illustrated. “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 year’s SI Swimsuit edition was photographed at Watamu Beach by photographer Yu Tsai and marks a milestone in inclusion for Muslim women. “This is a dream come true. I can’t even tell you how this feels. Growing up in the States, I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” said Halima.


Aden has continually broken-down barriers in the modelling world, starting in 2016 when she participated in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant and became the first contestant to ever wear a hijab on stage. Thanks to the publicity around the pageant, Halima caught the attention of IMG Models and has walked in the Milan and New York fashion weeks, later becoming the first model to wear a hijab on the cover of Vogue Arabia, Allure and British Vogue.

“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,” said SI editor MJ Day. “We both know that women are so often perceived to be one way or one thing based on how they look or what they wear. Whether you feel your most beautiful and confident in a burkini or a bikini, you are worthy.”