Somali-American, Halima Aden, becomes first model to wear a burkini in Sports Illustrated

A Somalian refugee has made history as the first model to grace the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition wearing a hijab and burkini.

Model Halima Aden has been featured in the 2019 Rookie Spread of the magazine wearing designer burkinis, hijabs and head scarfs.

The sports magazine’s annual swimsuit edition has faced criticism by feminist commentators for decades over its failure to represent women of different ethnicities and its objectification of the women in its pages.

“I keep thinking back to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” she said.

Swimsuit 2019: Kenya Halima Aden Kenya 1/18/2019 X162383 TK3 Credit: Yu Tsai

But the latest issue, which will hit newsstands in early May, shows a significant shift in the publication’s priorities.

The design team decided to fly 21-year-old Halima back to her home country of Kenya to shoot on location.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Halima said she couldn’t believe how lucky she was to come full circle.

“So to grow up, to live the American dream, and to come back to Kenya and shoot for SI in the most beautiful parts of Kenya … I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could make up.”

Stretched out on Watamu Beach, in a small coastal town north of Mombasa, the stunning model posed for photographer Yu Tsai, wearing outfits including a blue bodysuit and turquoise kaftan and a burkini covered in geometric blocks of primary colours.

The magazine’s editor MJ Day said Halima is “one of the great beauties of our time, not only outside but inside”.

“When we met, I was instantaneously taken by her intelligence, enthusiasm and authenticity,” Day said.

So, who is the stunning woman making history in the pages of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit?


The Somali-American was born in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where she spent the first seven years of her life.

Her family then moved to the US, where she maintained her Kenyan traditions and her Islamic faith.

In her late teens, she showed an interest in competing in beauty pageants but refused to compromise her traditional Islamic beliefs, so she would enter the competitions wearing hijabs and burkinis.

At 19, she made headlines as the first girl to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant and made it through to the semi-finals.

Since then, Halima’s career has taken off, walking the runways of New York Fashion Week and gracing the cover of Vogue around the world, Elle and Paper Magazine — the publication that helped Kim Kardashian “break the internet”.

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