Teen makes history wearing a hijab and burkini in Miss Minnesota USA pageant

Beauty pageants are strange and outdated, but apparently even in an industry that tries to define feminine beauty, progress is possible. This past week, Halima Aden became the first woman to wear a burkini at Miss Minnesota USA — which might seem like a small thing, but after the month this country had and the threat of white supremacists one day outlawing an achievement like Aden’s, this is super good news.

Aden made it to the semi-finals in her burkini, instead of a bikini like the other contestants. So she even made it pretty far in the competition. Aden is a 19-year-old Somali-American. She was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, but moved to America with her family when she was 6 years old. She said she hopes participating in the pageant will help people understand more about Islam.

Aden told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) , “This pageant is so much more than just beauty. Their whole message is about being confidently beautiful, so I didn’t think that I should allow my hijab to get into the way of me participating.” She added, “This is a great platform to show the world who I am. Just because I’ve never seen a woman wearing a burkini (in a pageant) it doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be the first.” That’s a badass attitude.

Aden just seems to get it. “We just needed one more thing to unify us. This is a small act, but I feel like having the title of Miss Minnesota USA when you are a Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people’s eyes,” she told MPR. Even though she didn’t make it to the crowning ceremony, she did say it was a “fun” experience on Facebook.

It would have been a lot cooler if she had won, but she still made history and opened the door for other Muslim women who want to compete in a beauty pageant but might feel they have to hold back when it comes to the bathing suit competition. What would be really cool is if beauty pageants could just do away with the whole “bathing suit thing” as a way to see if a woman’s body is up to the judges’ expectations of what it “should” look like, but we can’t have everything, right?

The burkini has been highly politicized in Europe, where French coastal towns attempted to ban it from beaches, and with Donald Trump in the White House, the situation for Muslim Americans is just going to get worse.

The more women like Aden are themselves in a public forums, all the better.