When Halima Aden, a Somali-American, became the first model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 'Islamic' attire, the rare move was applauded as a progressive step towards the empowerment of Muslim women. But not everyone is convinced.

Model Halima Aden at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York.
Model Halima Aden at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York. (Reuters)

“Growing up in the United States, I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” said Muslim fashion model Halima Aden in a behind-the-scenes fashion shoot video for Sports Illustrated that was filmed in Kenya, where she was born in a refugee camp.

The magazine said she would became the first to model the head cover and burkini, a woman's swimsuit that leaves only the hands, feet and face exposed, and be featured within the current issue, a move praised by many as empowering Muslim women.

The 21-year-model made headlines for the first time in 2016, when she became the first veiled woman to make it to the semi-finals of the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant.

“It’s always my message, don’t be afraid to be first,” Aden said in the video. “Burkini shoot, we did it!” 

The annual swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated typically showcases women in bikinis.

But for Aden, her appearance in the magazine and the beauty pageant symbolise her pride in religion and culture and a way to empower Muslim women who feel they don’t fit society’s beauty standards.

“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,” Aden wrote on Instagram. 

The reactions varied in intensity.

Awaiting the overreactions and hot takes on both sides of the lates  #HalimaAden cover like: 

For many women, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, it was a move towards diversity that is to be celebrated. For them, it meant that the media and fashion industries finally took concrete steps to give a platform to women who had been marginalised for years.

Some, on the other hand, doubt that having more Muslim representation on new platforms would mean supporting the misogynist beauty standards plaguing the fashion and beauty industries. To them, showcasing diversity isn’t necessarily sincere on every platform.