For all Muslim women around the globe, yesterday was a monumental day. Halima Aden yet again made history by being the first model to wear a burkini in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
I don’t know about you, but this excited me a lot. Like many other Muslim girls, I’ve grown up barely seeing myself represented in fashion. All of a sudden, I’m seeing Muslim women on the cover of major worldwide magazines! The significance of having Aden in a burkini is a major milestone for society.
For so long, Muslim women have been left humiliated, rejected, and ignored when wearing a burkini at the beach, or when going for a swim. It’s viewed negatively and as something unnatural by some, therefore the burkini hasn’t been fully accepted into Western culture. These perceptions have even prevented some Muslim women from going into these public spaces because of how uncomfortable they feel. I know I tend to feel slightly anxious being in a public sphere when I’m one of the only Brown people, let alone if I’m in a burkini.
To now have a strong, powerful Black Muslim woman fighting back against stereotypes is empowering. Any young Muslim girl who picks up that magazine and sees Aden on the cover will feel confident and liberated enough to unapologetically be themselves and rock their burkini! As for those people who previously shunned Muslim women, they may now see us in a new light, as real human beings who deserve respect.
Rather than refusing to accept that Muslim women and swimwear can co-exist in the same boundaries, why can’t we praise these women for their bravery and hard work in ensuring that in the future, girls no longer have to go through misrepresentation and tokenization?
However, like anything that involves Muslim women, there will always be controversy. Some people are saying that Sports Illustrated is a magazine catered to the male gaze, therefore claiming that Aden is objectifying and fetishising the hijab.
It follows from the belief that Sports Illustrated and the burkini exist as polar opposites—one glorifies the male gaze and the other is a rejection of it. One journalist claimed that Sports Illustrated is “celebrating a symbol of oppression” and that “any woman ‘choosing’ modesty culture should not be striking a sexy pose.” Rather than refusing to accept that Muslim women and swimwear can co-exist in the same boundaries, why can’t we praise these women for their bravery and hard work in ensuring that in the future, girls no longer have to go through misrepresentation and tokenization?
Halima Aden truly is a force to be reckoned with, regardless of what critics have to say. In an Instagram post, she stated, “Don’t change yourself…Change the GAME!!”
Instead of waiting for representation opportunities to come to us, we have to put ourselves out there in the world and empower our sisters to say: we are Muslim women, and we are here to stay.