Sports Illustrated Swim 2019

For the first time in its history, Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition has forgone the tiny bikinis of years past for its cover star, instead choosing the 21-year-old Somali-American Muslim model Halima Aden wearing a hijab & burkini.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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For years, swimsuit photo shoots have shown us a version of a person who is ‘bikini-body ready’ to borrow a phrase wheeled out on every and any women’s magazine cover since the history of time. These bodies are beautiful yes but they don’t show us the other 99% of people who also don swimwear when at the beach.

But now, for the first time in its history, Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition has forgone the tiny bikinis of years past. The cover star this year is the 21-year-old Somali-American Muslim model Halima Aden. And she’s wearing a hijab and burkini.

Aden, who was born in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya, returned to the country with photographer Yu Tsai for the shoot on Watamu Beach. In it, she dons a variety of burkinis, becoming the first Muslim model to appear wearing one in the magazine.

Aden’s decision to model the burkini resonates powerfully around the world as the swimwear is not without its controversy; in 2016 several French cities banned the burkini from its beaches.

There is an argument of course that an annual swimsuit edition of a magazine now feels outdated. But, when it comes to representation, this decision is an important and empowering step for the swimwear industry.

As Aden says in a video on Twitter, “Growing up in the States, I never really felt represented because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl wearing a hijab.” The shoot is a celebration of a different kind of ‘bikini babe’.

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Diversity Representation