Name: Dahabo Hagi
Claim To Fame: Hagi is working her way to the top of the modeling industry. Her last major show was at Palms Spring Fashion week a major platform for the growing resortwear industry.
Amid the standard family portraits and traditional cultural ornaments of her mother’s home sits a picture of Dahabo Hagi. It is an unlikely addition to the family’s decor given her parents’ decision to block her from getting an early foothold in the modeling industry. Persuaded that it was impossible to be both a model and a devout Muslim they ruled out their daughter’s participation in the field.
“My mom and my dad completely rejected it at every opportunity,” Hagi told HelloBeautiful. Those opportunities began early. She said Toronto scouts were dazzled by her Somalian beauty.
Her parents were not the only older figures in her life. She looked to her then sixteen-year-old sister for support. Her sister had already been observing her behavior and saw that she needed someone to encourage her.
“She used to see me watch America’s Next Top Model. I could translate it, you know, in our language and that she used to see me, watch it every single time. I would always try to save it and it would get deleted. I translated it into Arabic. I used to like repeat it, repeat it, and then she used to see me grab my mother’s cloth and walk around with it and act like it was my little show. And she’s looking at me, she’s like, ‘Well what are you doing?’ And I told her.”
She did more than tell her. She made her way to the television and deliberately pointed at the screen.
“I really want to be like Tyra Banks,” she told her sister clearly.
“So she looked at me, she said, are you sure you want to pursue this? And I was like, ‘absolutely.’”
Instead of dismissing her or chastising her the way her parents did her sister uplifted her throughout her childhood. She applauded her as she practiced by borrowing her mom’s dresses and shoes.
“‘I was scared to get caught because it’s forbidden to be modeling cause they see as they don’t see it as an art, they don’t see it as a career. They just see it as showing skin and it’s more than that and I am telling you I would try to convince them and then wouldn’t even see it as that.”
When she became of age Hagi defied her parents’ wishes and sought out the childhood dream that she had clung to in secret. As soon as she could she made her way to Los Angeles.
“And that’s when I had to take that big leap. And my sister definitely she was definitely like the one that kind of said ‘She wants to be a model, let her be it,’ and then, and they wouldn’t let me leave and that’s when I just kind of left,” she said.
With no agent and no references outside of campy reality competitions, she set out to begin a career as a professional model. But while she might have been disappointing her parents in one aspect she was honoring their beliefs in another.
“I just took my faith,” said Hagi.
“I knew that the moment I left my parents’ house, I was like I have to stand up for every Muslim woman, every Muslim girl,” she continued.
“You have to believe in yourself and you have to kind of show your parents another, another, uh, another way of yourself saying that, Hey, like, look at my pictures. I’m still being true to myself. I’m not doing anything different. I’m not like, I’m not going to disrespect my religion, and my culture, my people.”
The path for balancing the Muslim faith with the ambition of the fashion industry has been lit by names like Leah Vernon and Halima Aden but there is still a long journey to be had before the occupation can be seen as viable for millions of young Muslim girls and women.
“I honestly,120% I believe doing that ever since. All the Muslim Hijab models have [been] coming out. I believe it changed for the better. It showed that we are more than showing skin or taking off our clothes and, now we’re going to have an army of other Muslim women to come out of their shell and not be having the fear of saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to get, I’m going to get stoned to death. I’m going to get killed if I do this. ‘Cause it’s that serious.”
“Me coming in as a non-hijabi that’s going to shake things up,” said Hagi.
“It’s gonna change for the better’ cause now my mom actually starts seeing my photos and seeing that I actually can show that I have more to just show him more skin and taking out my clothes and whatnot. It showed that we still have value, we still have morals but we are embracing art, and we’re showing the fashion of the Muslim culture of what we could bring to the table. There are other women out there that want to do, they want to walk in, as Halima does and other up and coming models as well.”
Eschewing lingerie, an area petite and “too tall” models are often thrust into, Hagi has done a variety of beauty campaigns. “I definitely did a lot of sportswear,” she added. “I did a lot of fitness, a lot of fitness prep as well.”
“I’m actually thankful and blessed. Even walking the runway as tiny as I am,” she said. She revealed that she can’t help but smile when walking trading in that “straight face,” for visible gratitude.
Proud to report that her steadfastness has turned her family around Hagi said, “My mom is actually supporting me now, you know, and you say, Oh my God, look at my daughter now.
She actually cried over the phone. I was like, well my God. And now the fact that she wrote, she blew my picture on the, on the house…. My [little] sister is even looking at me now. My sister probably is even thinking about being a model now.”
She intends to publish a book and produce a documentary about her experience running away to fulfill her passion. She says they will recount, “What happened as an immigrant, as a refugee woman and how I came back to come by myself to Las Vegas without my parents, without my family, without no support system.”
Hagi’s determination to make a mark for Muslim women will not be dampened by the impact of COVID-19.
“Like at first I would have the anxiousness of self-doubt, the fear of saying, Oh my God, everything’s on pause. Actually, coronavirus made my body and my mind just still.”
She used the pause, “to actually practice more and, and work on my poses and my faces and my angles and my structure. And it gave me time to kind of like, you know, it gave me a time to kind of focus and have a strategy to get ready for the biggest opportunities to come ahead of me,” she said.
Adding, “This coronavirus I believe, to be honest with you, I pray for everyone involved through right now, but I felt for myself, it’s a blessing for me because it’s given me a time, slow down to be in peace. And, and now it gave me a time to meditate cause I never meditate in my life.”
Right now, Hagi looks forward to finding ways to stand out as a model in a challenging climate. “My biggest goal right now is to get signed with IMG models,” she said.
“Everything is social distancing. I’m going to find another creative way, another way to kind of provide to put myself out there and even with other models and, and showcase something we can do. We can utilize this moment of time.”