SI Swim Model Halima Aden Says Anyone Can Wear a Burkini

According to the model, it's "just another form of swimwear."

Halima Aden Sports Illustrated Swim Photo
Photo: Courtesy Sports Illustrated/Yu Tsai/Getty Images

Talking to Halima Aden is about as energizing as taking four shots of espresso — likely because the model admits she’s had way too much caffeine before our interview. She’s sitting across from me, smiling widely and occasionally tapping my leg for emphasis, explaining how thrilling it is not only to be in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, but to be wearing multiple burkinis while doing so.

“Our initial meeting was like, three hours long,” shes says while reflecting on the planning process, which happened after the publication’s editor, M.J. Day, reached out to her team. “M.J. was like, 'I can already envision it. I’m thinking this. What kind of burkinis would you want to wear?’ She really wanted to keep it bright colors, fun — something that would match my personality.”

The plan was a success. In the photos, Aden looks stunning as the waves wash over these bold designs, and between the jewel tones, elaborate patterns, the bright mix of turbans (some of them embellished), and even a pink Gucci hood, these looks really are Halima Aden in fashion form.

Yet, believe it or not, there was once a time when the model had never heard of a burkini. It was only after she competed in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016 and needed a swimsuit that she discovered them.

“It was so new at the time that it was difficult to find a burkini,” she says. Now, she’s hoping more women will discover this option through her photos. “I’m hoping it’s going to reach young women who want to pursue swimming. A lot of girls who are hijabis or Muslim, who want to wear something more covered, they didn’t even know a burkini existed.”

Halima Aden Sports Illustrated Swim Photo
Courtesy Sports Illustrated/Yu Tsai/Getty Images

Aden is also happy to clear up any misconceptions people may have about her swimwear.

“A lot of people were referring to it as a burqa, and a that’s not necessarily accurate,” she says. “A burkini literally is just a play on bikini and bur, and it really means a more covered, full-length swimsuit. That’s all it is. Just another form of swimwear.”

So, does that mean that anyone can wear a burkini?

“Burkinis are open for all,” Aden says, matter-of-factly, even suggesting it for those who sunburn easily. “Just like how women can get a one-piece or a two-piece. It’s one of those things that I would recommend every girl to try, dress up, and wear to the beach.”

With all that this 21-year-old has going on — she’s one of the faces of Uoma Cosmetics, which is the first Afropolitan makeup line, and recently launched her own turban collection, Halima by Modanisa — it’s hard not to wonder if she’s ready for a break. But, when I ask about slowing down, it was imminently clear that's not on Aden's agenda.

Girl,” she says while tapping my leg. “There is no slowing down.” Sometime in the future, she'd even like to design her own line of burkinis. “It would be a dream,” she says.

At some point, the model’s excitement seems to bubble over. I can sense that it really does seem surreal to her to be in this situation.

“I have goosebumps!” she says, holding out her arm. “I can’t even believe I’m in this group of such high caliber women. Like, Tyra Banks — model turned mogul — that’s one of the covers [of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue]. Women who are shattering perception. We’re all doing it in our own unique way.”

Aden's voice is suddenly quiet, and her face turns serious for second.

“I wish you could see just how impactful it’s been for a little Muslim girl who never thought a girl wearing a burkini would be in S.I.,” she says, pausing for a moment her before her smile returns. “And, here it is!”

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