Halima Aden Exposes Fashion's Illusive Promise of Diversity
The first hijab-wearing model on the cover of Sports Illustrated, appearances on the Burberry catwalk and campaigns for Yeezy and Fenty Beauty, Halima Aden’s list of career accolades is both extensive and impressive. With a glowing track record, she had set herself on a rapidly-moving upwards trajectory, but now the model has made the decision to remove herself from the industry. This shocking move was explained by a series of posts on the 23-year-old’s Instagram story. Referencing a constant struggle with the industry and its lack of respect for her faith, which she has said she has had to compromise multiple times for her job, as the main reason for her exit, the model went on to single out past campaigns that have contributed to her resignation. From wearing jeans on her head, in replacement of a hijab, to having to model in arbitrary headpieces instead of a scarf, the evidence she presented was both appalling and thought-provoking.
This exit of the industry’s most prominent Muslim model may seem like a loss for the fight for representation in fashion, and many will have this pegged as a sad regression for fashion. However, upon reflection, this loss may have ignited a change in the industry that will bring a new meaning to the word representation and, in turn, open the gates even wider for the next generation of diverse women wanting to partake.
While the need for women of colour on the front of magazine and in campaigns is self-explanatory, and key to the process of moving away from the fashion world’s once oppressive obsession with Western beauty standards (which have been fuelled by prejudice and misogyny), this move from Halima is in no way a loss.
The words 'diversity' and 'inclusivity' are multidimensional in meaning. Is Halima’s trailblazing status something that has enhanced diversity? Yes. But, the model has made it very clear that she feels let down and betrayed, showcasing how the industry's pride is allusive and disingenuous. Sighting the lack of Muslim stylists in the industry as a major contribution to her early retirement, as well as an ignorance regarding the wearing of a hijab and what it symbolises, Halima highlighted the blatant lack of understanding for hijab in fashion. By exiting, she paves the way for more Muslim women to rethink their positions in the industry and to make a change, so that the next generation of hijab-wearing models will be able to work without having to worry about compromising their beliefs or being the only person on the set who understands their boundaries.
Yes, fashion has excelled in recent years when looking at the number of diverse women we are seeing physically gracing catwalks and magazine covers, but this alone cannot be enough. Meeting a quota does not have any personal or emotional connotations, it is physical and outward-focused. Thanks to Halima, the big players in the industry are now being called upon to carry out some reflection and ensure that diversity is becoming rooted in their ethos, not just splashed across their surfaces.
By Erica Rana