Muslim model Halima Aden is stepping back from fashion and quitting runway shows entirely after feeling pressured to compromise her religious beliefs, she announced Wednesday.
“They could call me tomorrow and not even for $10 million would I ever risk compromising my hijab ever again,” she wrote. Aden also pledged to never take part in runway shows or travel for fashion months again, adding that “that’s where all the bad energy came from.”
Halima Aden at the Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscars viewing party earlier this year. Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
But her work, and the excitement of being labeled a trailblazer, caused her to lose sight of her beliefs, she said. Aden’s mother had long encouraged her to walk away — but it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted the model to stay home and take a break from the industry, that she “finally realized where I went wrong,” she wrote.
Among the campaigns she expressed regret over was a photo shoot for American Eagle’s first-ever denim hijab. “Why did I allow them to put jeans on my head when at the time I had only ever worn skirts and long dresses?” she wrote, explaining that “I was just so desperate back then for any ‘representation’ that I lost touch with who I was.”
American Eagle and Glamour did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
She also pointed to numerous other photo shoots where, though her head was covered, the scarf didn’t cover her chest or was styled in a way that hid it from view. These photo shoots were “essentially erasing my hijab completely,” she said.
‘Come correct or don’t come at all’
Despite her regrets, Aden pointed to a number of photo shoots that she felt were carried out respectfully, like the Vogue Arabia cover shot alongside two other black hijab-wearing models, Ikram Abdi Omar and Amina Adan.
And she isn’t walking away from fashion entirely, she said, but rather laying out conditions for those hoping to hire her.
“If my hijab can’t be this visible — I’m not showing up,” she wrote under a photo of her in a full unadorned hijab that covered her chest and shoulders. Under another photo, showing her full hijab, scarf and covered chest and shoulders, she wrote, “This is the standard moving forward if you want to work with me. Come correct or don’t come at all. Nothing less, nothing more.”
“These spaces were always predominantly white,” she added. “So you are already at a disadvantage for simply being YOU in a workplace that never considered someone of your background. We can’t give up, but it’s good to remain mindful.”
Halima Aden at the 2020 Embrace Ambition Summit in New York City in March. Credit: Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for Tory Burch Foun
Her announcement was met with support and praise from celebrities including Rihanna and Gigi Hadid. “Proud of you for staying true to your integrity,” supermodel Naomi Campbell wrote under Aden’s most recent Instagram post. “You are true light and joy since knowing you. And I hope our paths will cross in another capacity, keep rising and shining.”
Aden, who is Somali-American, was born and raised in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, before moving with her family to the US in 2004 at the age of 7. After a decade-long vetting process, her family resettled in St. Louis, Missouri.
“There are so many Muslim women that feel like they don’t fit society’s standard of beauty,” she told CNN in 2018. “I just wanted to tell them it’s OK to be different, being different is beautiful, too.”
Halima Aden did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.