First Somali Miss Minnesota USA contestant speaks about experience

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Every woman is beautiful and we need to empower the women who are younger than us.

-Halima Aden

Six months ago Halima Aden filled out a form and took a picture for an application into the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. For many, it’s chance at getting a scholarship, but for Halima, it was a chance to defy all odds and create a stepping stone for Somali and Muslim communities.

Aden is a first year student at St. Cloud State University and was the first Somali woman to be recognized in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. Her accomplishments grabbed the attention of the rest of the country, and news has been circulated about her from media outlets like Time Magazine, the St. Cloud Times, and NBC News. Despite the attention, Aden stays humble by looking back at everything that had gotten her to that point. She said her journey was not easy, but that the experience and opportunity she obtained was worth every step of the way.

“Having the title of Miss Minnesota USA when you are Somali-American and when you are a Muslim, I think that would’ve opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Aden said.

Aden fights for a world in which girls don’t feel shame when they look at the cover of a magazine and see someone who doesn’t represent them. Throughout the competition, Aden received messages and emails from parents complimenting her on her conservative wardrobe and grateful that there is proof that you don’t have to be half-naked to be considered beautiful.

For the swimsuit portion of the competition, she wore a burkini—a cross between a burqa and a bikini that covers the entire body. Even though Aden said that she heard a lot of cheers and applause from the audience, she received comments from people who felt that it was unfair and against the rules. Some even went as far as commenting on her religious background. The only thing Aden had to say to people with negative comments was “Thanks for the support.” She keeps her spirits high by pulling her feelings out of the equation and by not getting emotional.

“There’s always going to be people who want to bully you, but you don’t let them win,” she said.

The pageant was on Nov. 26, and even though she didn’t win, Aden enjoyed her time in the competition. She values the time she spent with the other contestants, who she said were nice and welcoming. She says the girls she met were very smart women who defied the stereotypes of pageant women in the media.

Aden recognizes these stereotypes of females in pageants and says that either way, women can’t win. SHe says that she’s heard people comment about women who wear bikinis and assume they don’t respect themselves, but then come back at her for covering up and assume she’s being oppressed.

“We have to fight all of those misconceptions,” she said. “I’m going to fight for you for wearing a bikini, and I expect you to do the same for me,” Aden said.

Aden plans on continuing her fight against stereotypes by remaining a public figure. After she continues her studies, Aden wants to go into the United Nations to serve a larger role as an inspiration to women. Currently, she is traveling around Minnesota and speaking at high schools to encourage women to be themselves.

“Every woman is beautiful, and we need to empower the women who are younger than us,” she said. “It’s okay to look different and be who you are.”