Halima Aden, a 19-year-old Somali-American woman from St. Cloud Minnesota, just made history. The teen competed in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant over the weekend and became the first woman to wear a hijab and burkini — a bathing suit that covers everything except for a woman’s hands, feet and face — during the competition. She made it to the semifinals.
However, unlike the rest of the contestants, Aden was never concerned with winning. Instead, she was focused on combatting Islamophobia.
“The people that are doing bad things, they don’t represent an entire group,” Aden told ABC. “I feel like I’m here to bust those misconceptions and stereotypes of Muslim women.”
Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, Aden came to the United states when she was just six years old and moved to Minnesota with her family. Despite the nation’s current political climate, Aden says that she didn’t enter the pageant with Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric in mind. However, she does find that supporting her community is critical, especially now.
“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.”
She continued, “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 Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people’s eyes.”
She might not have won the overall title, but she remains an inspiration to many.