Kenya-born model to grace sports magazine cover

She left Kenya for the United States as a refugee 14 years ago, came back for a photo-shooting mission that will not only have her featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, but also see Ms Halima Aden, 21, for the third time in as many years, break a global record.

If all goes as planned, Ms Aden will make history as the first Muslim model to appear in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit magazine with her head covered and wearing a burkini when its 2019 issue is released on Wednesday next week.

Only that in this edition, Ms Aden will add a modest touch to the cover page, which is typically known to feature models with most of their skin exposed.

She will be in a swimsuit that is associated with Muslim women, which leaves only the hands, feet and face exposed.


The photos were taken recently on the Watamu beach in Kilifi County by renowned photographer Yu Tsai, the magazine said on Monday.

Above all, the words “This is American beauty” will be emblazoned on Ms Aden’s photos.

“For her SI Swimsuit rookie spread, we couldn’t think of a more perfect place to travel than her birth country, where she shot at Watamu Beach with photographer Yu Tsai,” the magazine said in a statement.

Ms MJ Days, an editor at SI Swimsuit, said that featuring Ms Aden in the magazine was indicative of the range and scope of the type of beauty that exists.

“Her participation and inclusion further highlights the brand’s commitment to, and belief in, supporting women to own who they are and what makes them unique and ultimately reaffirms what our messaging has been — that you are worthy,” said the editor.


Ms Aden, who lived in Kenya until she was seven before moving to the United States, in a video shared on the magazine’s Twitter account, described herself as a “burkini babe” and says her appearance on the cover page is “a dream come true”.

Other models who have featured on the cover of the magazine and thereafter seen their careers thrive include Christy Brinkley, Tyra Banks and Kate Upton, who are household names in the modelling industry.

In an interview with the magazine, she said she was concerned because, on many occasions that she had flipped through magazines in the US, she had never seen a model wearing a hijab in any of them.

“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,” she said.

“I keep thinking [back] to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp. 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,” she added, according to a tweet by the magazine on Monday.


In a video shared on the same page, Ms Aden reveals that it is not part of her culture to participate in pageantry, saying that “it was very much an American culture. But that has always been my message: Don’t be afraid to be the first.”

On Instagram, Ms Aden said that featuring on the magazine’s cover was an indication that all races can be celebrated.

“It is sending a message to my community and the world that women of different backgrounds, looks, upbringing …. can stand together and be celebrated,” she posted on Instagram.

She said that she was hit by culture shock when she first arrived in St Louis and was filled with a longing to come back to Kenya. But she eventually settled down and has never looked back.

“This is a refugee camp. I want to go back home!” she recalled saying. “We moved to St Cloud, Minnesota, and things started looking up from there,” she added.


Ms Aden made her entry into the modelling world in 2016, when she became the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA Pageant and ended up a semi-finalist.

Although she did not win, she caught the attention of IMG models, which handed her a contract.

The pageant, Ms Aden said, was also a small culture shock as such gigs are not associated with Somalis.

In 2017, she again featured on the runway during the New York Fashion Week Fall as a model in Kanye West’s Yeezy season 5 show.

In April, she told the US media that she used to work in a hospital toilet before she began modelling.