Halima Aden, a 19-year-old Somali-American woman from St. Cloud Minnesota, has become the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant.
As ABC 7 reports, the contestants competed over the course of the weekend, and the results were only just announced this evening. Aden reached the semifinals wearing a hijab and, during the bathing suit competition, a burkini: swimming attire that covers all but one’s hands, feet, and face.
But despite her excellent performance, Aden tells ABC that she is not especially concerned with winning. Rather, she is invested in combatting the poisonous Islamophobia that currently run rampant across the United States.
“The people that are doing bad things, they don’t represent an entire group,” Aden said. “I feel like I’m here to bust those misconceptions and stereotypes of Muslim women.”
Moreover, Aden views her participation as a way of challenging Western beauty standards.
“This pageant is so much more than just beauty. [The] whole message [of Miss Minnesota USA] is being confidently beautiful, so I didn’t think that I should allow my hijab to get in the way of me participating,” the St. Cloud State student explained to MPR News. “This is a great platform to show the world who I am...just because I’ve never seen a woman wearing a burkini [in a pageant] it doesn’t mean I don’t have to be the first.”
Aden was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and came to the United States when she was six-years-old, settling in Minnesota. She says she did not enter the pageant thinking specifically of Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric or of his recent election to presidency. However, she believes it’s critical to support her community by representing it in the most positive way.
“What I wanted to do was to just give people a different perspective,” she tells MPR. “We just needed one more thing to unify us. This is a small act, but I feel like having the title of Miss Minnesota USA when you are Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people’s eyes.”
Ranked in the Top 15, Aden did not seize the title — this time. But it seems that she has already achieved much of what she set out to do, and we are all here to witness that victory.