Aden, 21, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, living there until emigrating to the United States at age seven.
Announcing details of the shoot on Monday, Sports Illustrated said they couldn’t imagine a more fitting location for the shoot than the picturesque Watamu Beach in the nation of Aden’s birth.
She made headlines in 2016 when she competed at the Miss USA pageant, shortly after which she was signed to represent IMG Models.
In the pageant, the teenage Aden became the first model to wear a hijab and burkini – an adapted bikini to reveal only the face, hands and feet – through every round of the competition. It is now an achievement she is replicating with Sports Illustrated.
“I keep thinking [back] to six-year-old me who, in this same country, was in a refugee camp,” Halima said to Sports Illustrated during the shoot.
“So to grow up to live the American dream [and] to come back to Kenya and shoot for SI in the most beautiful parts of Kenya. I don’t think that’s a story that anybody could make up.”
Aden can list appearances in Vogue (where she became its first cover model in 102 years to wear a hijab), at New York Fashion Week, and an Ambassadorship with Unicef in her expanding body of work – and says her latest shoot “celebrates the diversity of women.”
“Sports Illustrated is proving that a girl that’s wearing a bikini can be right alongside a girl that’s wearing a burkini, and as women we can come alongside each other and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders celebrating the diversity of women,” she said to ‘Good Morning America’.
It is a sentiment that SI Swimsuit editor MJ Day agrees with.
“We believe beauty knows no boundaries,” she said. “I admire Halima, and I consider her an inspirational human for what she has decided to use her platform for and her work with Unicef as an ambassador. She is, in my opinion, one of the great beauties of our time, not only outside but inside.”
However, while the step met with praise online, there were some who lauded Halima while questioning the shoot, with one person writing: “Good for @Kinglimaa for breaking barriers in the modeling world, but I just don’t get this photo.
“This issue is for men to gawk at and get pleasure off these photos.The whole point of hijab is modesty and guarding your sexuality.”