Photo via CNN
This weekend, Halima Aden took historic strides across the stage of the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant. The 19-year-old Muslim woman was the first ever contestant to compete while wearing a hijab. She also chose to wear a burkini during the swimsuit portion instead of the bikini favored by the rest of the contestants.
While she did not win the entire competition, Aden placed in the top 15 out of 45 semifinal contestants, per NBC. At the same time, she feels that this was a victory for cultural awareness and that it gave people a chance to see a different perspective. “We just needed one more thing to unify us,” she told Minnesota Public Radio prior to the competition. “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.”
Aden was born in a refugee camp in Kenya to Somalian parents and moved to Minnesota with her family at age six, according to ABC. She is currently a freshman at St. Cloud State University.
The Miss Minnesota pageant occurred among recent reports of hate crimes directed towards American Muslims in the wake of the election, as well as ongoing controversies such as several towns in France at-tempting to ban women from wearing burkinis this sum-mer, per NBC. Aden hoped to both break barriers for Muslim women and to counter the common idea that their choice to cover means they are oppressed, according to the Star Tribune. The Tribune also re-ported that following the pageant Aden received thank-you’s from parents and young girls who have been bullied due to their religious beliefs and choices.
“Be who you are,” Aden urged listeners on Minnesota Public Radio. “It’s easy to feel like you have to blend in, but it takes courage to live your life with conviction and embrace the person that you are.”