Putting the Crown on a Hijab
Let’s face it. Beauty pageants and their contestants have had a bad rep for a long time. The mention of the word “pageant,” itself, is bound to draw comparisons of stereotypically ditzy blondes, wailing infants on TLC’s “Toddler’s and Tiaras,” or Sandra Bullock in Ms. Congeniality. However, Halima Aden, a 19 year-old Muslim student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota is at the forefront of changing that stigma.
Last Saturday night, at the annual Miss Minnesota USA Pageant, Halima made history when she became the first contestant ever to wear a hijab and later on, a burkini for the swimsuit portion of the competition. The hijab is a traditional, head-covering veil or headscarf worn by Muslim women and is usually accompanied by the loose-fitted clothing (as Halima wore throughout the pageant). Later on, for the swimsuit portion of the competition, Aden wowed the crowd again when she wore a blue, embroidered burkini, or a full coverage swimsuit that leaves just the hands, feet, and face exposed.
In a world where we can embrace a teenage boy as the spokesperson for a global cosmetics empire, and the industry’s biggest fashion designers advocate for racial equality, it seems only natural that Aden’s bold and inspired choice to wear traditional Muslim garb was met with praise and support. Nura Afia, a Muslim beauty vlogger with over 200,000 subscribers, also achieved a milestone in early November when she became one of CoverGirl’s newest ambassadors. She subsequently appeared in her first CoverGirl advertisement wearing a hijab.
Halima and Nura’s achievements come at a particularly important time, as racial tensions have risen in the aftermath of this year’s elections, and many Americans anxiously fear what president-elect Donald Trump has in store for the country’s future immigration policies. It’s significant for young women, and in particular, young women of color, to have role models that challenge mainstream notions of beauty. Together they’re proving that what really matters is wearing what makes you feel beautiful.
To fight the stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed, Halima admitted to being bullied when she was younger for being Muslim. The pageant was the perfect opportunity to fight against Islam misconception while showing others that she is proud of her culture and religion. In an interview with CNN, Aden said, "There are so many Muslim women that feel like they don't fit society's standard of beauty. I just wanted to tell them it's OK to be different, being different is beautiful, too." Despite only making it to the competition’s semifinals that night, Aden’s courage and poise make her a winner in her own right.