Sensing the tension passing between Shadab’s crew, one of the men called out, “Don’t worry, we’ll be right here. We won’t get in your shots!” But they kept staring.
For the rest of the trip “That’s Ayeda!” became a running gag among the group. Including, a few days later, at Herat International Airport, when workers stopped her for a selfie.
Just 14% of the population uses the internet as a source of news and information, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 “Survey of the Afghan People.” In 2015, only 25% of households could get online using a cellphone with Internet access, but that number was up to nearly half in 2019.
erican who is working with Facebook to bring the anti-bullying and anti-extremism “We Think Digital” campaign to Afghanistan, said she has signed up 14 Afghan women, including Shadab, to be digital ambassadors.
She has identified 60 Afghan women with 50,000 or more followers, Wardak told Insider, adding: “They are building cultural tolerance in our society one post at a time.”
Shadab sees herself principally as a businesswoman, and she uses social media to drum up business for her eponymous shop, which has become one of Kabul’s hottest boutiques since she opened it a year ago.
Shadab comes from a prominent Afghan family. Her mother is a Senator from a Northern province and her step-father was the deputy governor of Logar province. (He was killed two years ago whole traveling to the capital.) As a student in Malaysia and China, where she got a masters degree in business, she learned about social media from her classmates. “They were Muslim, but they were willing to show off their style and personality,” she said.
Her posts started getting the attention of other women in Kabul, who would reply by asking her to bring the clothes she was wearing in photos back to sell in Afghanistan. That’s how she got the idea to open her own store.
On the racks, denim jackets adorned with traditional embroidery from northern Afghanistan hang alongside voluminous dresses with subtly-dropped necklines. There are brightly-colored full-length faux fur coats that have appeared on the accounts of several other influencers. Her purchases from Herat — like the second-hand velvet dresses she found at the antiques market — will be repurposed into original designs.
“My entire business is reliant on my social media,” she said. “Sometimes I fear what will happen to my business if Instagram ever shuts down.”
She ended up placing seventh, but she stayed on social media, and now has a combined following of 239,000 on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube. (One performance, in particular, has been viewed millions of times.)
Where Shadab is seen as aspirational, Madadgar, who’s 22, is approachable. YouTube videos that show her cutting open a melon or describing a recent leg injury to a friend get tens of thousands of views.
Most YouTubers have professional studios with special lighting, specific backdrops, HD cameras and Pro-level computers to shoot and their videos on. Madadgar does it all with the most basic of tools. Each of these videos are shot, edited and published directly from her iPhone.
She’s also known for being deeply religious, and has become a model for how to broadcast your life over social media while maintaining a sense of modesty.
“When I first went on Afghan Star, everyone said ‘there’s no way you can remain a good Muslim girl and be a singer,'” Madadgar said. “So I set out to prove them wrong.”