Social media influencer supporting Afghan women in Queens

Zahra Sahebzada had a view of the Manhattan skyline long before she moved into her Long Island City apartment. “It was on my vision boa...


Zahra Sahebzada had a view of the Manhattan skyline long before she moved into her Long Island City apartment. “It was on my vision board a few years ago,” she said. “I’m all about protesting.”

Previously, she lived in Hicksville, NY, Long Island, where her family moved 20 years ago. Around 2016, she made a habit of taking the 45-minute train into town so that she could get to Queens and stand by the water, staring at the skyline on the other hand. side of the East River.

“It wasn’t just a magical view of the city,” Ms. Sahebzada said. “It was a vision of hope. I always prayed, standing there, and I said, “God, I don’t know when, but let me live here someday.”

After all, it was in Queens that her family first landed in the United States when Ms Sahebzada was 8 years old. His mother fled Afghanistan towards the end of the Afghan-Soviet War, traveling before her husband, and gave birth to Mrs Sahebzada in Nantes, France, where the family settled briefly. Undocumented and feeling unwelcome, they moved to Hamburg, Germany for a few years, before settling in Queens and eventually becoming US citizens.

Sometimes, during her stays in the borough, Mrs. Sahebzada stopped in the rental office where the promoter TF Cornerstone greeted the candidates to fill 2,614 apartments along the boulevard Center. She knew she couldn’t afford to move into one – not yet – but every time she saw a new apartment, it motivated her.

Ms Sahebzada, now 31, divides her time between working as a special events manager for Tory Burch, the designer known for her preppy and bohemian fashion, and as a social media influencer, known primarily for her makeup tutorials. She posted her first video in 2009. “Back then,” she says, “it wasn’t about monetizing her at all. It was a hobby that I really enjoyed.

It took her a few years to get comfortable in front of the camera. “When you expose yourself,” she said, “different opinions come into play and you have to build thick skin. But that’s the beauty of being a content creator: you get an authentic, organic relationship with your audience.

Eventually, she wanted to connect with a larger audience and was frustrated with the difficulty of this task. “It was never about asking, ‘What’s wrong with me? But instead ask, “How can I change the industry?” “That goes for the world of influencers and beauty and fashion – everything,” she said.

Ms Sahebzada, who speaks five languages ​​(English, Farsi, German, Hindi and Urdu), noted that there were many more tutorials in English than in Farsi, the language she grew up speaking:? I’m going to take advantage of who I am – let me do it in my native language. ‘ “

From there, his audience grew. Today, almost all of his videos are in Farsi, and 80% of his followers are in Afghanistan, most of them in Kabul. “Girls in Afghanistan tell me, ‘You give me hope.’ The doors are opening for them, and that’s my main goal, ”she said. “It wasn’t even about the makeup or the technique – it was more about having the courage to go in front of the camera and identify as an Afghan woman.”

As she found success with it Youtube channelMs. Sahebzada got more serious about renting an apartment in Long Island City. She wanted to get there before she reached 50,000 subscribers on Instagram. In January, after having 43,000 subscribers, she signed her lease and a few months later posted a video celebrating the 50,000 subscribers. (She now has 54,000 and continues.)

His studio is well lit but small; she had to be creative to squeeze into a Covid-era home office, living space and a good place to shoot her videos. “I’m the editor, I’m the videographer, I’m the talent, I’m the IT department,” she said. “It’s a one-woman show, for sure.”

The space where she shoots her videos is adorned with personal belongings and fashion statements, including a cross-body handbag with a brass chain strap, Tory Burch pumps with metallic heels, and a sketch of a young girl with face turned back – a picture Mrs. Sahebzada identifies with. “I wanted to give the impression of being at home.”

Sometimes she uses the building’s common areas – a roof terrace, a living room – to film her videos. She feels at home in the larger and more diverse community that makes up the Cluster of Five Skyscrapers. “I see people with my skin color, the same religion and similar cultures. I don’t feel uncomfortable going into the building, ”she said.


$ 2,300 | Long Island City

Occupation: Ms. Sahebzada is a social media influencer and special events manager for Tory Burch.

Career path: After majoring in the performing arts at Five Towns College, Ms. Sahebzada struggled to find her niche. “As an Afghan-American woman,” she said, “it was very difficult to break into this industry. So I had to create a space for myself and find my own audience.

Benefits of a good boss: Ms. Sahebzada is grateful for the support her employer has shown Afghan women. “I am incredibly honored to work for Tory Burch,” she said.


Her favorite aspect of makeup tutorials is what she considers their uplifting essence. “It’s not just about having a pretty face,” she said. “It’s about being confident. Because when you feel good, you are doing good.

Ms. Sahebzada’s profile has grown enough to attract the attention of producers at Tolo TV, one of the largest television broadcasters in Afghanistan. And in Spring 2020, her tutorials became a regular Sunday morning segment. “I was trying to show the girls that they can be themselves in any creative way they want,” she said.

Her role as an influencer has been her way of connecting with what she described as “the homeland I have never seen”. But that link was severed last summer, when the The US military has left Afghanistan and the Taliban have regained control of the country.

Upon withdrawal, Ms Sahebzada received a late-night call from her producer on Tolo TV, telling her that the Taliban had informed the network that women were not to appear on the air until further notice – and Ms Sahebzada had been distinguished.

“The producer told me that they specifically mentioned my name: ‘Zahra is prohibited from being a part of this program,’” she said. “I am across the world. It was a scary thing that the Taliban knew my name.

In September, after a few months away from social media, she started posting videos again. She is grateful that she still has access to these platforms, but she knows that a large part of her audience has been cut off from YouTube and Instagram.

“The fact that there is someone trying to shut the door on Afghan women – I am blessed to be in a safe space,” she said. “All I can think of are the girls who are there, who are not in a safe space. “




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Newsrust - US Top News: Social media influencer supporting Afghan women in Queens
Social media influencer supporting Afghan women in Queens
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