Digital natives as much as any young person in Istanbul or Los Angeles, they are doing more than shaping what’s cool in Afghanistan. Over Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Facebook, these influencers are proving they are more than the “post 9/11” generation, as they’ve been labeled for 20 years. Afghanistan is what they make of it.
Mixing traditional and streetwear styles, they blast Travis Scott, Rihanna, Nina Simone, and Afghan musicians like Ahmad Zahir. They post selfies in front of Kabul’s graffiti walls and carefully timed videos of the Turkish chef putting on an elaborate show in the city’s new high-end steakhouse. They make Tik-Toks of Megan Thee Stallion’ Savage challenge and redub Bollywood clips to poke fun at their own country.
Meet Afghanistan’s fearless Gen Z influencers, who are blowing up on TikTok and have more Instagram followers than the president
By broadcasting to the public, these influencers are taking real risks, but also reaping big rewards. In Afghanistan, they’ve earned reputations as tastemakers who are sought out by savvy business owners for their marketing power. They work out for free at Kabul’s flashy new high-tech gym. But in a country still at war, safety is a serious concern. Recently, there has been a pattern of targeted killings aimed at the nation’s journalists, rights workers, politicians and other influential figures. No influencer has been targeted so far, but it’s a threat that’s never far from their minds.
Ayeda Shadab is one of Afghanistan’s social media stars.
The 26-year-old posts several times a day, and she has more followers on Instagram than the country’s president, Ashraf Ghani. She models the dresses for sale in her luxury Kabul boutique and shares glossy selfies from her trips around the country. Her devoted followers flood the comments with style questions and words of encouragement.
“Our intention is to show people the possibilities, that they can live life as they want,” she told Insider. “There is always fear in your heart, that’s just part of living in Afghanistan. But we have to stand up and live our lives.”
On a recent trip to Herat, the historic city in western Afghanistan best known for its ancient Citadel, Shadab documented her every move, excited to find fresh content for her 230,000-plus Instagram followers and her nearly 390,000 followers on TikTok.
The trouble was that everything she wanted to do seemed needlessly dangerous in a city known for kidnappings and where, just recently, police officers were killed by IEDs planted near the hotel where she was staying.
One evening during the trip, Shadab and her crew drove to the Roof of Herat, a scenic overlook with panoramic views of the city that’s a popular sunset hangout spot. As they pulled in, her friends (and this journalist, at work on this story) began to wonder if it was a good idea to stage a photo shoot in such a public place.
Just behind the lookout was a mosque belonging to a controversial mullah who had taken out billboards across Herat reprimanding women for inappropriate attire. Nearby was a guest house owned by a local jihadi warlord who only a decade ago had criticized the city’s rock bands for carrying guitars, rather than guns.
For the occasion, Shadab wore an embroidered top with billowing sleeves and a skirt that fanned out into kaleidoscopic waves of color. Before stepping out of the Lexus borrowed from a wealthy local businessman and onto the dirt and gravel road, Shadab slipped into a pair of Manolo Blahniks she had bought during a recent trip to Dubai.
Not too far away, groups of men idled in their cars best hookup app Knoxville and rickshaws smoking hashish. Two children were begging Shadab for coins, not remotely comprehending that they might be getting in the way of her Likes.