As the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, where she was a semi-finalist, you might think Halima Aden has always had the confidence to embrace her identity.
But the model has revealed that she experienced bullying and racism growing up, because she wears a hijab.
Speaking at Fashion Futures in Saudi Arabia, the Somali-born trailblazer shared that people used to make fun of her for wearing a hijab and they would also make jokes about her being a terrorist.
However, the 22-year-old who spent time living in a refugee camp and has risen to the top of her modelling game despite the odds, detailed that the sense of community she experience there helped shape the person she is today.
“In times when life seemed anything but peaceful and stable for my family, was the idea of community. Community is what continues to give me hope. When asked about my upbringing, from coming from a refugee camp, I let people know that the whole sense of community that lives there,” she explained.
“I didn’t have toys, I didn’t always have food, I didn’t always have clothes, I know ironic for a fashion model, but I did embrace and love the people I was surrounded by.”
Halima also shared that when the family moved to Minnesota, their neighbours and local community helped them get on their feet, and this example of being able to coexist and have compassion for people, even if they look different or have different beliefs, has informed her adult life.
The fashion industry has also given her hope for the future. “Ultimately fashion, a community comprised of people who see value in differences and who aren’t afraid highlighting the unknown, has given me the hope. This industry will continue to accept and include people from all different walks in life.
"Because this has played such an instrumental role in my life, I will be supporting communities who need support. I do my best to align with brands and organizations who are doing their best to support communities who need it the most and provide hope to those who’ve lost it all,” she said.
The model is currently working with UNICEF as an ambassador, and most recently visited the Philippines to connect with coconut farmers to see the work they’re doing to improve their communities from the ground up, also shared that she hopes she is an inspiration to young muslim girls and hijabis also.
“So I think it’s starting this amazing sisterhood, especially when I meet girls who are also fellow hijabis or Muslims and that connection that I instantly feel, I can’t even begin to describe, but it just makes me feel so proud, so proud,” she said.