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She competed in a hijab and burkini, making Miss Minnesota history at 19.

For the first time in the pageant's history, a contestant wore a burkini during the swimsuit segment.

She competed in a hijab and burkini, making Miss Minnesota history at 19.

She was born in a Kenyan refugee camp. Then, at 6 years old, Halima Aden and her family moved to Minnesota.

Minnesota is home to one of the largest Somali communities in the U.S. As such, Aden grew up surrounded by lots of other Muslim women and girls. What she saw in the media, however, didn't match her own experience growing up in America.

"As long as I could remember, the media portrays Muslim women as oppressed and in a very negative light,” she told Huffington Post in an interview this November. “But you never see the beauty and the good things that come from Muslim women.”

Now 19 years old, Aden entered the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, making a bit of history in the process.

Like many pageants, Miss Minnesota USA has a swimsuit competition. Rather than wearing a one-piece suit or bikini like the other contestants, Aden did something completely different: She wore a burkini.

Photo by Leila Navidi/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ TNS via ZUMA Wire.

The word "burkini" is a portmanteau of the words "burqa" and "bikini," and it is essentially a full-coverage wetsuit worn by some Muslim women for personal or religious reasons.

"This is a great platform to show the world who I am," she told Minnesota Public Radio before the competition. "Just because I've never seen a woman wearing a burkini (in a pageant) it doesn't mean that I don't have to be the first."

Burkinis, which were invented a little over a decade ago, were designed to ensure that Muslim children wouldn't miss out on swimming and other activities.

What began as little more than a sensible solution that allowed children to observe their religion while taking part in activities with their peers soon turned into a controversy.

Some towns in France have banned burkinis, citing a number of concerns about safety, secularism, and an argument against the patriarchy, claiming that the suits are oppressing women. The truth is, however, that someone in a burkini does not present a threat to anyone else's safety, it's not an act of evangelism, and many women choose to wear it — just as many women choose to wear bikinis.

Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti created the burkini. Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images.

Aden's decision to wear a burkini on stage matters, especially since anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in the U.S., with the FBI finding a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015.

In the lead up to — and aftermath of — the 2016 election, U.S. Muslims are facing an increasingly hostile environment. A University of Michigan student claims that a man threatened to set her on fire unless she removed her hijab, there have been multiple instances of women having hijabs pulled off their heads, and a Muslim Uber driver reported being verbally accosted by a complete stranger.

Two days before the election, President-elect Donald Trump told a Minnesota crowd, "You've seen first-hand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval." He then went on to claim that Somali refugees — like Aden — are joining ISIS. This sort of baseless claim is dangerous, and only furthers the growing anti-Muslim feeling.

While Aden didn't win the Miss Minnesota USA competition, her decision to wear her hijab and burkini on stage is a bold display of bravery.

"What I wanted to do was to just give people a different perspective," she told MPR. "We just needed one more thing to unify us. This is a small act, but I feel like having the title of Miss Minnesota USA when you are a Somali-American, when you are a Muslim woman, I think that would open up people's eyes."

Leila Navidi/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ TNS via ZUMA Wire

Maybe seeing Aden on stage meant challenging any preconceived notions people in the audience may have had about Somali-Americans and Muslims. Maybe Aden's act gave courage to other Muslim girls and women who've felt as though they cannot (or should not) be themselves in public.

Personal acts of bravery — even as simple as saying, "I exist" — are crucial in questionable and trying times. By simply existing and participating in the pageant, Aden pushed back against powerful expectations. She may not have won, but she still made a difference.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."