'Breaking barriers': Sports Illustrated to feature burkini model

Halima Aden to appear in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue as the first Muslim model to wear a hijab and a burkini.

    'Breaking barriers': Sports Illustrated to feature burkini model
    Halima Aden was the first contestant to wear a hijab at a Miss USA beauty pageant in Minnesota in 2016 [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

    A Somali-American woman has become the first model to wear a hijab and full-body burkini in Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. 

    Halima Aden, who will be featured in the United States-based magazine's May 8 issue, called the photo feature a "dream come true" and said she hoped it would promote diversity and boost confidence among young Muslim women to participate in sports and assert their right to public spaces.  

    "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," Aden, who is Muslim and a former refugee, said in a video tweeted by Sports Illustrated on Monday.

    "Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me," she added in a post on Instagram. "It's sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings ... can stand together and be celebrated."

    The 21-year-old model's spread was shot at Watamu Beach in Kenya, where she was born in a refugee camp and lived until the age of seven before moving to the US

    "Young Muslim women need to know that there is a modest swimsuit option available to them so they can join the swim team, participate in swim class at school, and go with their friends to the beach," she said.

    "Muslim girls should feel confident taking that step and doing so comfortably while wearing a burkini."

    The announcement sparked both praise and scorn, with some lauding Aden for "breaking barriers" and others criticising her for appearing in a magazine they said "objectified women".  

    One Twitter user, Janice Deul, said Aden had made "history again" and was using "the power of fashion and magazines to make society more inclusive". 

    Aden first made headlines in 2016, when she was the first woman to wear a hijab - a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion - in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.

    Since, then she has also appeared on the cover of British Vogue and on runways at New York Fashion Week.

    Another Twitter user called Aden's pictures "inspirational", and added: "The whole world is a beautiful and amazing place when culture, diversity and multiculturism is shown in its full glory."

    Others were critical, however.

    Shireen Qudosi, a Twitter user, said: "If you're going to wear the hijab and cover your skin - whether you think our religion calls for it or you want modesty - it is completely counterintuitive to strike a sexy pose in a magazine known for objectifying women."

    MJ Day, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's editor, said she and Aden "both believe the ideal of beauty is so vast and subjective". 

    In a statement on the magazine's website, Day added: "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."

    Halima Aden: From refugee to Somali American hijabi model

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    Halima Aden: From refugee to Somali American hijabi model

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies