Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Elle are some of the magazines I vividly remember growing up, because a friend used to bring them to school when I was in Grade 8. We would gather around, flipping through the pages during our 15-minute break and take turns borrowing the magazines to take them home and read every word. Eventually, I would pester my mom into buying me one when browsing for schoolbooks and she would hurriedly comment, “Fine, just pick any one, they all look the same.”
That precisely was when it hit me that they, in fact, did look the same and none of them looked close to what my friends or I looked like. Big glossy covers, celebrity gossip, someone’s crib tour and the usual white cover girl, airbrushed to perfection.
For us, these magazines were a one-way mirror to the outside world. But why weren’t we seen from the outside in? For years, fashion magazines have applied the same quintessential formula of Eurocentric beauty and fashion ideals. Fast forward a decade and a half and with the onset of new editorial leaders, we see new faces countering this diversity deficit.
Since featuring Jean Patchett as the first cover model in 1950, to frequent Kate Moss’ cover appearances in the nineties, Vogue has come a long way with a much-needed push for inclusivity. From notable cover stars like Halima Aden, born in a refugee camp in Kenya and Cara Delevingne, who is an avid advocate for LGBTQ+ rights to the iconic 'Forces of Change' issue, the face of diversity as well as the definition of beauty is undergoing a massive transition and is no longer limited to celebrities.
Today we see a 23-year-old Pakistani-born Pashtun girl gracing the cover of British Vogue, a magazine that amasses over 2.4 million readers annually. The cover embodies the spirit of the ever-resilient Malala Yousafzai, the young change-maker who not only survived a terrorist attack but has since paved the way for the education and empowerment of younger girls. She has been at the forefront of the Malala Fund since she was 15, won the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 and is now a recent graduate from Oxford University and on her way to launching a production company called Extracurricular aimed at providing a platform to talent from around the world. From the looks of it, no one, especially not internet trolls, can stop her from championing real change.
Even more distinctive are some of the smaller yet sustainable brands she has sported, further characterising South Asian tradition and Muslim heritage. These include Alice Cicolini rings handmade in Jaipur, Eskandar trousers inspired by the designer’s Iranian heritage and a headscarf by Mai Hijabs, a Muslim run brand, which Malala proudly wears as a symbol of her culture, defying the notion that such symbols are oppressive, as suggested by the recent bill against headscarves in France.
It is truly remarkable how an inclusive cover like Malala’s can potentially influence today’s younger generation into dreaming about a future worth fighting for. Kudos to Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful for addressing the lack of diverse representation and challenging change with every cover. I can only imagine how empowered I would have felt had I seen someone like me represented back when I was in Grade 8. Next time you spot a familiar face on a big fancy magazine cover or find yourself trying out the Vogue challenge on TikTok or Instagram, reflect on why this cover’s story should be conversational, not controversial – and let it be a reminder of why Malala’s representation is worth the celebration.
Syeda Faryal Ali is Associate Creative Director, BBDO Pakistan.