Of course British Vogue did a red cover for Malala; it’s the color of action, confidence, courage, and change, all of which are nouns inextricably tied to her legacy. (It’s also the color of love, and yes, she gets asked about that in the story, too, because nobody can talk to a 23-year old woman without wondering if she’s going to partner up anytime soon.) It’s absolutely a cover that will pop on newsstands, and which keeps her as the focus without too many bells and whistles. At the same time, we see Malala thusly in almost every formal photograph of her, and I wonder if there was a more creative approach to be found? I get why Vogue would feel awkward pivoting hard to, “Malala Wears Giambattista Valli Couture and Gucci Sunglasses While Riding a Pony.” You want to walk the line of making her feel special, without turning her into a fashion plate in a way that’s anathema to who she is and what she’s about, but Edward Enninful has a lot of creative resources at his disposal and maybe could have done more than putting her in a boilerplate fashion pose that looks like an ad for hand cream.

They tried something with the inside photo:

British Vogue July 2021 inset-1623168155

I’d have been interested to see what else this shoot yielded. But I also see why it’s not the cover — Malala has always looked the world straight in the eye, unflinching, even as she grows up before our eyes. In the end, that’s probably the message. And the story itself is a wonderful account of a remarkable young woman who is dealing with the same quandaries of growing up as any of us, even though she’s also already lived what may feel like a thousand lives. I liked this bit:

Malala told herself that things would be different at university, where “all the freshers are new, and haven’t made friends yet”. She quickly found her circle. “When she came in,” says her best friend, Vee Kativhu, “she was great at being the Malala the world knows; being around adults and handling situations with diplomats and world leaders. She was a little more reserved, and serious, because she had to carry herself in those settings. She came into university as an adult, and left it as a young adult.”


“Even until my second year of university,” she continues, “I just thought, ‘I’m never going to get married, never going to have kids – just going to do my work. I’m going to be happy and live with my family forever.’” She turns to me, full of revelation. “I didn’t realise that you’re not the same person all the time. You change as well and you’re growing.”

She also mentions that she’s close with Greta Thunberg and Emma González, and I love the idea of a Famous Young Activist WhatsApp chain where they give each other advice on what to wear to the White House and roll their eyes about people who drive them crazy and send each other Ted Lasso GIFs.

[Photo by Nick Knight; the July issue of British Vogue is available via digital download and on newsstands now]