Halima Sports Illustrated
photo: Instagram/Halima

As we begin to see steps forward in the fashion industry toward body inclusivity and more, we're also beginning to see cultural appreciation shine through, even in the most unexpected places. Take Sports Illustrated for instance, the fairly predictable publication that once a year gifts readers with a plethora of barely-there swimsuits draping the bodies of supermodels surrounded by white sand beaches and baby blue oceans. 

Well, this year, it's stepping away from the norms with a bold move that has us asking what took so long. For the first time ever, it's featuring a hijabi model in a burkini on its pages, and we're loving all of it. 

If you don't know by now, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is a big deal. 

Every year, men and women sit eagerly waiting the annual copy featuring some of the world's top supermodels showing off what they got on a tropical island that always makes us insanely jealous. The salacious issue has become a dream of models near and far who hope to join the elite group of beauties who have graced the in-demand pages and covers.

But we can expect something a little different this year. 

The clear star of the issue isn't donning a string bikini like the ladies usually are. Instead, 21-year-old supermodel-in-the-making Halima Aden is making history as the first SI model to wear a hijab and a burkini while gracing the pages, and it's long overdue. 

So, who is Halima Aden? 

The young model's quick rise to stardom is well deserved. She first made headlines back in 2016 after becoming the first contestant in the Miss Minnesota USA competition to wear a hijab and burkini. The next year she went on to be signed to IMG models and made her New York Fashion Week debut at the Yeezy season five runway show. Since then, she's become one of the most in-demand editorial models of the time. 

But Sports Illustrated isn't the first cover she's made history for.

Back in March she was a part of the first-ever Vogue Hijabi group cover. 

"To think that just 3 years ago there was not a single Hijabi model and now fast forward to the first Vogue Hijabi group cover. Huge thanks to @mrarnaut & @voguearabia for releasing this monumental cover on Muslim Women’s Day. And major congrats to my fellow Somali Queens," she said on her Instagram at the time.

Aden posted her SI debut with an inspirational message. 

She thanked the publication by saying, "Don’t change yourself .. Change the GAME!! Ladies anything is possible!!! Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me. It’s sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings... can stand together and be celebrated. Thank you so much @si_swimsuit & the entire team for giving me this incredible opportunity."

For her, being able to represent hijabi women brings about pride that dates back to her childhood. 

“I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” she told SI

The support has been resounding. 

Other model friends such as Gigi Hadid, Ashley Graham, Winnie Harlow, and Duckie Thot have all publicly expressed their support since the news was shared by the publication on Instagram. And how could they not? This is representation never before presented by the swimsuit issue.

But Aden is so much more than a beautiful face.

Since the moment she stepped on the scene, she's emphasized advocacy and paying it forward. She's become a fixture of Teen Vogue Summits, where she spreads the word about diversity in spaces and industries that need it most.

She's also a proud UNICEF Ambassador. 

Since 2018, the Somali-American model has been a strong voice for the organization. Born at a refugee camp in Kenya after her family fled civil war in Somalia, she lived there for seven years with her parents before moving to the United States. It was through that experience that she developed a passion for empowering young people and a desire to give back, which led her to UNICEF.

Aden won't be going anywhere anytime soon. 

And she shouldn't. Shape-shifters like Aden are a necessity if the industry is going to continue to make strides toward diversity and understanding. 

Make sure to grab your copy of the issue on May 8 when it hits newsstands!