Why Halima Aden Is Proud to Be Part of Sports Illustrated's Cultural Conversation About Beauty

Halima Aden made history as the first hijab-wearing model in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue last year. But in 2020, she returns as an SI veteran, debuting an editorial she shot in the Dominican Republic with Kate Powers. (Last year, the 22-year-old supermodel was photographed by SI's longtime photographer Yu Tsai, who captured the new cover.)

"You never have to commit or be something that doesn't make you feel confident and beautiful."

"It's always exciting and a little like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm shooting for SI!' So, I don't think the butterflies ever necessarily go away, whether it's your first or second year, but I will say that coming back, I knew what to expect, and I was a lot more comfortable. I knew what the setup would be like," Halima told me when I talked to her about the experience. "[SI Swim Editor in Chief MJ Day] will come up to me and be like, 'OK, how does this burkini make you feel? Do you actually like it?' You never have to commit or be something that doesn't make you feel confident and beautiful."

Halima wears a red Tommy Hilfiger burkini with a camouflage-print hijab and translucent visor in one shot and strikes a more ethereal tone in neutral colors for her colorblock moment in the feature. Although we talked enthusiastically about her looks, Halima was hands down most concerned with expanding the conversation around representation and diversity as a whole, touching on the progress Sports Illustrated has made as a company to change the industry:

"This year, the issue features Valentina Sampaio, who is the magazine's first-ever transgender model. That is a huge, huge deal and going to make so many people feel proud. We're talking about representation, and the LGBTQ+ community is just another group of people that hasn't felt represented."

Scroll through to read even more of Halima's empowering messages about why the fashion world could stand to press the "reset" button during these trying times for our country, and see more from her Sports Illustrated shoot, which is now officially on stands.


POPSUGAR: What makes you proud to be part of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit family for a second year?
Halima Aden: It's honestly one of the greatest things that I could accomplish in my career. SI Swimsuit remains very committed to its goal of changing the cultural conversation around beauty with a dynamic of very high-caliber women. These are women who are professional athletes, mothers, and models-turned-moguls. We see what shooting for SI can do for a model's career. MJ Day and her staff are some of the nicest people to work with. She does a good job of picking the right people to make the girls feel comfortable, confident, and like their most beautiful selves.

PS: What can the fashion industry learn from SI's approach?
HA: SI Swim provides a safe and collaborative environment for the women to express themselves how they want to be, whether that's through the images or how they break down the conception of what sexy is and looks like. You're not just there to be a model, but you're part of the scene, and what you say matters. At the end of the day, it's your image, so the team does everything to make the girls feel confident enough to speak up.

"Now more than ever, it's so apparent that we use our platforms and voices to stand up for what we believe in and to raise awareness as much as we can."

PS: How can the industry be using this time of social distancing to press the reset button and listen up?
HA: Now more than ever, it's so apparent that we use our platforms and voices to stand up for what we believe in and to raise awareness as much as we can. We also need to be giving back to the healthcare community. You might not know this, but seven months into my modeling career, I was still working, cleaning patient rooms at St. Cloud Hospital. So when COVID hit, it was definitely close to home for me, having worked in a hospital setting before. Now, our healthcare workers, our cooks, our nurses, the people who work in cleaning, and the LPN are really our celebrities of today. It's nice that the fashion community is able to give that recognition. The essential workers and people who are keeping stores open — they are our celebrities, they are our heroes.

PS: You recently collaborated with Allure and Anywhere on a line of face-covering sets for hijabi workers. How did the collaboration come about during the pandemic?
HA: I was the first hijab-wearing model to enter the industry, and I learned a lot in terms of style. The same thing happened to me when I worked in the hospital. I purchased my scrubs, but I never thought to myself, "Wow, there's not a single head-covering option." To collaborate, the team sent me a sample and I would try it, literally clean my entire house and just go about my day, and then send feedback about how it fit and what we could improve on. I learned so much through that process.

PS: How have you changed your approach to getting dressed during the pandemic?
HA: I've had days where I was just so excited to finally get my makeup done and I'm like, "Give me any project!" I'm just excited to get ready. I'll do my makeup, throw on a cute outfit, and then quickly realize I have nowhere to go. For work, I definitely still send my stylist Kate Keim photos and I'm like, "What do you think?!" I'm staying very hopeful because hard times never last, and this pandemic is no different than anything else in life, so we just have to weather through it, stay strong, keep our loved ones close, and just stay focused.