Halima Aden is a stunningly beautiful woman; who recently made history, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing a burkini (which to my knowledge is a bikini that covers more of the body) The photoshoot for this publication was praised and held in high regard because Ms Aden made the cover while maintaining her modesty and exposing only her face and stunning 100 watt smile.
I found the media response to this situation a little curious as the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Ms Aden was hailed as something that redefined beauty but exactly what standards of beauty were redefined?
It was in 1964 the legendary Sports Illustrated “swimsuit issue” burst onto the scene and not only legitimised the “bikini” but also managed to permeate, publication pop culture. I’ve never read an issue so I have no idea if the models featured on the front cover have a direct connection to the content inside? Sport Illustrated swimsuit covers have literally featured a who’s who of beautiful earth specimens; supermodels Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Elle Macpherson, Brooklyn Decker, Rebecca Romijn and even Beyoncé have graced the stage of this front page.
So, we have to ask ourselves is beauty being redefined because Halima Aden is of Somali heritage? Entrepreneur and 80’s super model Iman might have something to say about that? Perhaps beauty is being redefined because of Halima’s Muslim faith? Model Kate Upton openly declares her Christain faith, but I simply don’t know how important “faith” is when booking modelling jobs within high fashion. So perhaps beauty is being redefined because Ms Aden asserts that wearing a hijab is a non-negotiable part of her contract…which I think is an excellent standard to set…but not too sure if physically that makes her any less beautiful?
You could put forward the argument that a model of Muslim faith featured on the cover of a mainstream fashion magazine is a breakthrough! As a result, perhaps you have Muslim women all over the world who feel acceptance, validation and see themselves reflected in a mainstream mirror. More importantly, Ms Aden wearing a hijab on the front cover empowers women to maintain their individual integrity and set their own standards in the world of high fashion.
In an inter-connected world, it is encouraging to see the diversity of the audience reflected within the media it consumes however the intentions of the media aren’t always honourable. The media is cultivated to find a fertile audience and sow the seeds for its own survival. Is Sports Illustrated breaking new ground? Or is the publication looking to catch the attentions of a broader audience?
High fashion is just a slice of society as a whole, I’m just not sure if the emergence and promotion of diverse, gorgeous, beautiful women on the front cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN or Vogue translates into the daily lives of the everyday Joe or Joanna. In fact, I’m not sure if the visual imagery produced from the fashion industry builds the confidence of those within the industry…because ultimately the illustrious covers of Sports Illustrated are showing beautiful women who choose to wear more or beautiful women who choose to wear less.
Things are changing and recently softball star Lauren Chamberlain graced the cover of ESPN’s 2019 10th edition body issue, in an attempt to promote a more diverse “thicker” body type, but even within a fast-paced media, change is slow…so why wait? Why look to the media for validation? I’ve been in love with the visual brilliance of the human form my whole adult life…but surely the body isn’t the only way to gauge a womans beauty?
There is a visual element to attraction/beauty but a stunningly gorgeous woman wearing a burkini doesn’t really change what beauty is. In fact, it probably reinforces media standards of beauty, by telling us no matter your cultural or ethnic heritage, you’re almost guaranteed a VIP pass if you possess a specific set of physical proportions. Do we seriously think exposing less flesh will redefine mainstream standards of beauty? More importantly will this help young girls like my young daughter or my four nieces feel more confident within themselves? Is the media the best place for anyone to attempt to glean a sense of self-worth?
Beauty is not a “standardised” term but a personally subjective one and is as individual as the thumbprint you use to unlock your smartphone. So rather than see beauty defined as a range of women within a limited mould let’s truly redefine beauty by breaking the mould and recycling the concept so that it’s totally okay to see more wrinkles that were formed through time. I don’t just want to see 50 shades of the same grey but all colours of the rainbow.
Until next time.