“I was forced to confront some of the world’s biggest issues before I was five,” Halima Aden, 22, explains when we press her about how she acquired such strikingly beyond-her-years wisdom.
Dress, Dhs16,700; Belt, Dhs1,690; Shoes, Dhs3,570, all Valentino. Necklace, Dhs5,562, Aigner. Bag, Dhs23,700, Bottega Veneta
“Malnutrition, malaria, often my mum wasn’t there as she was meeting the UNHCR people trying to get us out of the camp…” she trails. “You don’t have a say in where you’re born, or what environment, or what kind of family you’re in, but I saw it all as a kind of gift from the universe – one that came with the need to problem-solve. You need that philosophy and you need to have a certain view to survive. That’s definitely me.”
Jacket, Dhs12,700; Trousers, Dhs4,670, both Alexander McQueen. Earrings, Dhs935, Racil at The Modist. Turtleneck, Halima’s own
“My family won the billion-dollar lottery being able to leave that camp,” she half-laughs, still audibly incredulous. “It’s something crazy like only one per cent of refugees get to relocate to somewhere like America. We were such a rare case.”
Scarf, Dhs1,760, Hermès. Dress, Dhs4,073, Taller Marmo. Necklace, Dhs3,020, Monica Sordo at The Modist. Bracelets, Dhs380 (each), Paule Ka. Shoes, Dhs2,520, Valentino. With thanks to the Maasai of Ngong Hills
Even if others had gone through the same hardships and emerged triumphant from the other side, it’s still hard to imagine anyone else recounting the journey with such optimism. “It’s a choice,” Halima insists. “Every day, you have to choose to look at things positively. I know that if I do, it impacts everything… my actions, my views, my opinions, and it gives me a soft cushion for when things do go wrong.”
Dress, Dhs14,400; Necklace, Dhs2,940; Belt (worn as necklace), Dhs1,580, all Valentino. Coat, Dhs3,230, Anouki at Browns Fashion
Against a tumultuous and uncertain global backdrop – perhaps rockier now than ever – Halima’s is a life-affirming mission statement we could all do with remembering. “No matter how grim things may seem, there are always so many people in this world who are trying to fight the good fight. And you have to remind yourself that you are not alone – that there are so many people like you that want the same.” She smiles. “That makes me look at the future in a hopeful light. I really do believe people are born good.”
Dress, Dhs5,350; Coat, Dhs33,350, both Bottega Veneta. Hat, Dhs2,380, Eliurpi at Browns Fashion
Unwittingly, Halima’s boundary-breaking turn on stage at Miss Minnesota launched a global movement – self-acceptance being a huge cornerstone of it. Her now-famous motto, “Don’t change yourself, change the game,” has resonated far beyond just young hijabis longing to see someone that looked like them on catwalks and in magazines. Indeed, it can be appropriated by those in the margins now finally seeing themselves represented in the mainstream.
Turtleneck, Dhs1,430; Jacket, Dhs5,720; Trousers, Dhs4,140; Boots, Dhs3,000, all Kristina Fidelskaya. Hat, Dhs645, Greenpacha at The Modist
“Everyone should have that one motto,” Halima says. “Something you can say to pump you up – kind of like putting on a Beyoncé song!” she laughs. “For me, growing up I needed something to say to myself to keep me unafraid, almost like a promise. I don’t need to conform to fit in and I don’t need to sway my values. I am me and I will always be true to myself.” She continues, “It’s so lovely to see other girls saying the same motto. Now it’s something not just for me, I share it with my community, too.”