Halima Aden, a Somali-American teenager from St. Cloud, became the first contestant in history to wear a hijab during the Miss Minnesota beauty pageant. A Muslim woman who moved to the US from a refugee camp in Kenya at a young age, Aden has always struggled with anti-Islamic sentiment and is well aware of the misconceptions about her religion – especially in a post-Trump society characterized by messages of hate. She has worn a hijab her entire life and has been a victim of bullying and ridicule; by competing in the Miss USA pageant, she hoped to combat fallacies about Islam while also promoting a more positive and progressive outlook on the religion.
Aden’s hometown, St. Cloud, has seen rising anti-Islamic sentiment in the past few years, especially since Donald Trump was elected president. But Aden says the President-elect isn’t the reason she entered the competition – the pageant came at a time when her community needed ‘positive representation regardless of the election rhetoric.’ And so rather than put on a bikini or fancy dress, she stepped on stage in what she was most comfortable in – a hijab and a burkini.
But Aden wasn’t aiming just to make waves in society’s views on Islam; she hoped to shake the heavily grounded ideas about female beauty – one that the media has created over the years, one based on sexuality and physical attractiveness.
‘This pageant is so much more than just beauty. Their whole message is being confidently beautiful, so I didn’t think that I should allow my hijab to get into the way of me participating,’ Aden told MPR News before the big night on Saturday. ‘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 that I don’t have to be the first.’
Aden competed against 45 other women fully clothed, and while she didn’t make the top five, her efforts were a test of strength and courage that generated a compelling sense of inspiration throughout the media.
‘We were honored to meet Halima and the other accomplished contestants who took part in a truly life changing event. The pageant allows young women to cultivate their personal career goals, advocate for humanitarian issues and be a voice to affect positive change in the world. These women are forward thinking and motivated to not just talk about this change, but to initiate it,’ says Denise Wallace, Executive Co-Director of the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
‘What I wanted to do was to just give people a different perspective. 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 a Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people’s eyes.’