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St. Cloud model is first to wear hijab and burkini on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Halima Aden was born at a refugee camp in Kenya but came to Minnesota when she was 8 years old.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Right now in the world of fashion and modeling, there is a light.

"Growing up I did not think in my wildest dreams that I'd be a model," Halima Aden said. 

Aden has a personality that shines brighter than any light. Minnesota is proud to claim her as its own.

"I am Minnesota's biggest mascot!" she said with a huge smile. "Every interview I do, I always talk about the amazing people in Minnesota. I've recruited so many people to come travel to Minnesota."

Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Aden made her way to St. Cloud with her mother. Aden was 8 years old back then. She said when she was younger, she looked for guidance.

"I wish I had that growing up -- somebody to tell me, 'Go out and try this,'" Aden said. "You don't have to sit and wait for somebody to do it for you. If you don't see yourself represented in any given space, be that person."

Now she is the disruption in the system. She was the first to shake things up by being the first hijab-wearing model on Miss Minnesota USA's pageant stage. Now she is the first woman to grace Sports Illustrated Swimsuit wearing a hijab and burkini. 

"It's still incredibly surreal, I still can't believe it's happening," Aden said. 

The previews released by Sports Illustrated show photos of Aden posing on Watamu Beach in Kenya. The photo shoot brought her back to the country where she was born. This time it featured her, the beautiful shoreline and the water. Last time, it was a refugee camp.

"It inspires me so much and it inspires the kids who are living in really impoverished communities that this girl is from a refugee camp," Aden said. "She did not come from a world of fashion or luxury. But I worked hard to be where I am and I continue to work hard every single day."

She's a fashion model, a collaborator and an ambassador. Aden definitely plays a lot of parts. However, her biggest gig yet is definitely the one she booked from the very moment she stepped onto the Miss Minnesota USA stage in 2016. She has been a role model for many since that moment in time.

"I want every little girl, every young woman to feel confident and beautiful in who she is," Aden said. "I want girls to live with conviction. Never feel like they have to conform in order to fit in."

Aden is right. While beauty has always been in vogue, women like her aren't just playing a given role anymore. They're re-scripting the very story that lies ahead of us.

"What an incredible way to showcase that beauty comes in all different sizes, all different shapes and colors," she said. "We as women - we can be each other's biggest cheerleaders. It's OK for a girl wearing a burkini on the same spread as a girl wearing a bikini. More power to you. I think that's what this spread is, truly celebrating our differences."

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition featuring Aden hits stands May 8. 

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