Beauty comes in many forms.
This is what one of the contestants for Miss Minnesota USA sought to communicate above all things. Nineteen-year old Halima Aden – a Somali-American – was born in a Kenyan refugee camp, and has been living in America for the past thirteen years. She proudly participated in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant this November, sporting a hijab and wearing a burkini for the classic swimwear segment of the competition.
A hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women covering the hair, but not the face, while a burkini is a Muslim swimsuit which covers the whole body except the face, hands, and feet, similar to a full-length wetsuit with a built-in hood.
Although she didn’t win the contest, Halima expressed her happiness in being able to serve as an inspiration to other girls and women by presenting a different canon of beauty than the usual ones categorised and seen as such. “I could’ve sat there and I could’ve waited for a long time to see somebody who was dressed like me or looks like me, but I noticed that just wasn’t happening’, she says, referring to American beauty pageants.
“The media portrays Muslim women in a very negative way… You don’t see the beauty and the positive things that come from Muslim women.”
You don’t have to change the way you look and conform in order to look beautiful – this is what Halima Aden feels. She was the first ever Somali-American woman to compete in this pageant, defying stereotypes of beauty without compromising her religious or personal beliefs.
The pageant was a two-day competition, which took place from the 26th till the 27th November, and saw forty-five contestants competing for the title. The young Muslim woman’s admittance to the contest sparked various reactions. Many were those who applauded Halima’s standing out as a symbol of the non-categorisation of beauty, as well as her stance to continue to hold onto her personal values in the face of a competition which was so inherently different. Unfortunately, not all reactions were positive. Halima’s mother herself did not agree with her daughter’s decision to participate, and neither did a number of the Somali community members living in America.
Organisers of the contest admitted that allowing someone to wear a burkini instead of the usual conventional swimwear was not an easy one. Denise Wallace, the director of Miss Minnesota USA, said that “the Miss Universe organisation is proud to be at the forefront of the diversity of beauty.”
Halima’s long-term aim is to one day become a US ambassador after her graduation. She grew up in St. Cloud in Minnesota, which is the State estimated to hold the largest Somali community in the United States. She is currently a student at St. Cloud State University.
No woman has as of yet ever donned a burkini in a local beauty pageant in Malta. This would surely create news, as well as opposing reactions, surely even stronger than those felt in America.
What do you think? Should the rules concerning such competitions be changed in order to allow the participation of such contestants?
Let us know in the comment section below.