How Hijabi Model Halima Aden Helped Me Live In My Truth

'I've felt the pressure to be pretty, I've felt the pressure to be thin, I've felt the pressure to Westernise my appearance, and in doing so, I may have neglected the most important part of my life, my faith. Halima Aden has empowered me to live in my truth.'

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From a little girl to a grown woman, I have felt the pressure to be beautiful at every stage of my evolution. The Barbie Girl anthem was released in 1997 and, at just 7 years old, I knew all the lyrics off by heart.

And as much as I found joy in belting out the catchy chorus, 'I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world', at any given opportunity, it's only when I look back in hindsight that I realise that Barbie and I couldn't be more different.

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That's because Barbie is a manifestation of manufactured feminine stereotypes, reflective of an unreasonable standard of beauty. As a young Somali-Muslim girl who was born and bred in London, I was raised with the ideology that the female body is sacred and a woman's modesty is the epitome of beauty.

There is always a reason to smile. You just have to find it 😄

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Two decades on, in comes a new face of fashion that I can finally identify with. Cue Halima Aden, the first Somali hijab-wearing model to sign a major contract with IMG and shatter the glass ceiling, at the same damn time.

Raised in a refugee camp in Kenya, Halima Aden immigrated to the St. Cloud area in Minnesota at the age of 6. Much like myself, the Somali-American struggled to find representations of women in the media that she could relate to, whilst growing up in the Western World.

Determined to break beauty barriers, the 19-year-old made history in November 2016 as the first contestant to wear a burkini – modest swimwear for Muslim women - in the Miss Teen Minnesota USA pageant.

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What was to follow was nothing short of a whirlwind of ground-breaking opportunities, that launched the rising star's career in fashion. Highlights of Halima Aden's year so far include covering the CR Fashion Book and making her catwalk debut as an IMG model at the Yeezy AW17 show in New York.

Admittedly, I never thought that I would see the day that a Somali hijabi that shares the same culture and religion as me would be welcomed into the fashion industry with such grace and dignity.

The hijab is often associated with negative connotations such as oppression, isolation and terrorism and is rarely portrayed in the media as what it is – a symbol of modesty, peace and faith.

Halima Aden's stardom defeats negative racial stereotypes and signifies unity and hope. With the current political climate of Brexit and Trumps' presidency in the US, in my opinion, the timing couldn't be better.

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Although, I very rarely wear my hijab in public, it's an obligatory part of my religion that I've always wanted to one day commit to and fulfil. Over the last couple of years, I've deliberated on wearing the hijab on a full-time basis, but I have hesitated because working in the beauty industry can at times feel like a 'Barbie World'.

I've felt the pressure to be pretty, I've felt the pressure to be thin, I've felt the pressure to Westernise my appearance, and in doing so, I may have neglected the most important part of my life, which is, unapologetically, my faith.

To be blatantly honest, it's hard enough trying to make it in the media as a Black woman, so it's no wonder why I genuinely feared that wearing the hijab might lessen my chances of making it big-time. Halima Aden has not only empowered me to live in my truth but is changing the perception of Muslim women across the globe, with every smize and strut she takes down the runway.

Not that it's publicised much, but the Somali diaspora is an extremely tight-knit group of people who manage to stay connected no matter where we live in the world. And believe me, we are all over the place. The International Somali Awards is an awards ceremony that celebrates the greatest achievements of Somalis worldwide and this year's show took place on 15 March 2017 in London, where Halima Aden was flown-in and honoured for her accomplishments.

Amongst the crowd on the big night was Shayma Shakira Abdullahi, the UK's first Somali hijab-wearing contestant to enter the Miss Earth England beauty pageant and become a 2017 finalist. I caught up with the 18-year-old beauty pageant hopeful on her motivations, or as I call it, the Halima Aden effect:

'I always thought that to dress modestly and be beautiful and confident were mutually exclusive, but Halima Aden showed me that it was possible. I had the chance to meet Halima Aden at the ISA 2017, and I told her she was my inspiration, she was so sweet and gave me advice on how to dress. We even joked about what I'd wear in the bikini segment of the show. She was so humble and empowering.'

To me, the most admirable thing about Halima Aden is the confidence that she has in her own feminine identity and beauty. It's not the wearing of the hijab that makes Halima Aden an iconic figure in the media, it's her resilient mind-set and determination to present little girls and women with a different idea of beauty to look up to.

Surely, that's the kind of world that women would like to bring their daughters up in?

I, for one, am elated about the way Halima Aden has positively represented my community as a Somali-Muslim woman. And it's nice to know that when I do start wearing the hijab, there will be a plethora of couture fashion houses that cater to me, and other modest women.

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