Hijab-wearing Somali-American model Halima Aden says she is taking a break from what she describes as the “toxic mess called fashion” after revealing she felt pushed to the wall to compromise her religion.
In a series of Instagram posts on Wednesday, Aden, who made history in 2016 when she became the first woman to wear a hijab and a burkini at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, said the COVID-19 pandemic and the fashion break during that period made her realize where she “went wrong” in her “personal hijab journey.”
The 23-year-old cited several instances where she put her religion on the line in order to get work done, including missing prayers, not properly wearing a hijab or having it replaced with something else, and being styled in clothes she didn’t feel comfortable in.
“They could call me tomorrow and not even for $10 million would I ever risk compromising my hijab ever again,” she shared in one of her posts, according to CNN. She also said she’ll never feature in runway shows or travel for fashion months again, claiming “that’s where all the bad energy came from.”
Though Aden has chalked up several successes in her career and broken glass ceilings, she said the spotlight made her veer off her religious values.
“My mom asked me to quit modeling a long time ago,” she posted. “I wish I wasn’t so defensive. Sis was literally the only person who had the purest intentions for me.”
In her subsequent posts, Aden showed photoshoots with styles she said she shouldn’t have consented to wear, with one of them being a campaign for American Eagle where a pair of jeans was put on her head. The campaign was to launch the clothing line’s first denim hijab.
“But.. this isn’t even my style?? Never was,” she said. “Why did I allow them to put jeans on my head when at the time I had only ever worn skirts and long dresses?” Prior to that post, Aden admitted: “I was just so desperate back then for any ‘representation’ that I lost touch with who I was.”
Aden also shared another photo of a campaign she did for Glamour magazine in 2017 where she had feathers around her neck and was wearing a wrap under her hijab, CNN reported.
“I went back to my hotel room and just sobbed after this shoot because deep down I knew this wasn’t it. But was too scared to speak up,” she posted. “Also very common struggle when you are the FIRST to do something.”
A model of many firsts, Aden made history in 2019 when she became the first Muslim model to wear a hijab and burkini for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. She also featured in the May 2018 cover of British Vogue, making her the first hijab-wearing model in the magazine’s 104-year history. She was also one of the three models to feature on Vogue Arabia’s first-ever group hijabi cover.
Despite the setbacks, Aden showed photos of campaigns – including Vogue Arabia’s – she said did not compromise her religion and was totally comfortable with, adding that any campaign she’s going to be on in the future will be on her terms.
“If my hijab can’t be this visible – I’m not showing up,” she posted alongside a photo. “And never skipping my prayer time! Fashion can wait.”
In another photo with a hijab completely covering her neck, she shared: “This is the standard moving forward if you want to work with me. Come correct or don’t come at all. Nothing less, nothing more.”
She continued: “These spaces were always predominantly white. So you are already at a disadvantage for simply being YOU in a workplace that never considered someone of your background. We can’t give up, but it’s good to remain mindful.”
Aden was born in Somalia and spent some of her formative years in a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya after her mother fled the civil war back home. Aden would later move to the United States, growing up in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Like most Somalis, Aden was raised Muslim and grew up wearing the hijab or head cover, which she says is purely a matter of choice for her.