Halima Aden: Redefining Beauty Standards

Emily Arnheiter
The Somali-American model smashes stereotypes with her strong-willed personality and activism

Child refugee, UNICEF ambassador, international model, innovator. When it comes to badass women, Halima Aden stands out on and off the runway. Caught in the midst of the Somali Civil War, Aden was forced at a young age to relocate to Kakuma, a Kenyan refugee camp. Eventually her family would come to the United States. She worked two jobs in high school to send money to her extended family in Somalia, help her mom pay for their house, and save up to buy a car. At the age of nineteen, Aden caught the eye of IMG Models after being the first hijab-wearing contestant in Minnesota’s Miss USA competition. However, Aden has made a point to not conform to the pressures of the fashion industry. Before signing with the nation’s top agency, she discussed at length her wardrobe requirements and her place as a Somali Muslim woman in the modeling industry with the agency. The fashion industry is often criticized for being too monolithic. But Aden has ensured that the fashion world will not change her – steadfast to her beliefs, she says that every time she goes on set, the people who are doing the shoot already know her requirements and have an understanding, so she feels safe. She also travels with a female chaperone and doesn’t allow male stylists to dress her.

Modeling and beauty pageants are not traditionally a part of Halima Aden’s culture, and she has faced opposition in light of this. Aden expresses that as a child, magazine articles never painted Muslim women in a positive light. When asked about what the importance of representation in fashion means to her, Aden replied, “Oh my gosh, it’s huge. When you are represented, people take it for granted. To understand the importance of representation you have to ask people who’ve never felt like they were represented fairly… Now, I get to represent my community to the majority.” Aden continues, “For a very long time, women like me have been kept out of the conversation. We were talked about, but we weren’t given opportunities to talk for ourselves.” Since signing with IMG Models, Aden has made appearances for Yeezy Season 5 and MaxMara. She has also worked with Nike, Mario Sorrenti and Carine Roitfeld. Roitfield put her on the cover of issues 10 and 13 of CR Fashion Book. Aden has appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and Allure

Halima Aden is an official UNICEF ambassador. In this position she is able to bring attention to human rights causes and help attract resources to support refugees. She is grateful for her many opportunities and hopes to grow in her partnership with UNICEF.

Halima Aden is the true definition of a strong, empowered woman. She is using her platform as a model of color to educate people about the gravity of representing all of humankind – from all walks of life; all ages, races, and genders. By sharing her story with others and standing up for herself, Aden is creating a movement that extends far beyond the runway.

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