Iowa Teen With Punishing Past Is the New 'It' Girl

But Ugbad Abdi is embracing her modeling career and cultural role
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2019 2:30 PM CDT

From war-torn Somalia to middle America to fashion runway—it isn't exactly a time-worn path. And teen model Ugbad Abdi seems just as surprised. "Everything that has happened so far to this moment, it's like, all a dream come true," she says. "I always get emotional." But the 19-year-old shows an ability to roll with the unpredictable turns in her life, the Wall Street Journal reports. Placed in a Kenyan refugee camp when she was little, she and her family were relocated by a UN agency to Des Moines, Iowa, when she was nine. There, she resisted modeling but did post Instagram photos of herself, which led to an invitation from a modeling scout. But there was an apparent catch: She's Muslim, and wears a hijab.

Yet the fashion world considered it a plus. Now she has walked runways for brands like Fendi, Chanel, and Burberry, and was in three Vogue issues this year, always with her head covered and skin mostly under wraps in accordance with her Muslim faith. She's also part of a diversity wave in modeling that includes women of color, trans models, and plus-size models; among 221 top fashion shows in recent years, almost 40% of models were nonwhite. Abdi seems to take her whirlwind career and cultural role in stride, despite at least one freakout after seeing herself on a New York billboard. "I call my family after shows to tell them about it, and almost every time I start to cry," she tells Vogue. "Tears of joy because this has been my dream and it [still] feels like I'm dreaming." (Read more fashion stories.)

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