She’s known as the girl who woke up America. Actress, activist and fashion icon Yara Shahidi covers our first-ever Green Issue – and did we mention she’s only 19 years old? Timed with National Environmental Month and World Environmental Day on 5 June, our Green Issue is devoted to living a more sustainable life for the future, and educating readers around slow fashion and ethical beauty.
Our editor-in-chief Holly Meadows has vowed to stop using single-use plastic sleeves wherever possible, and inside the issue UN Environment spokesperson Georgina Avlonitis makes the case for why we need to break up with plastic. With World Ocean Day on 8 June, Avlonitis says, ‘There will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050… And it’s no surprise considering one rubbish truck of plastic is dumped into the sea every minute. That figure is expected to double by 2030 if we don’t act fast.’
Throughout our issue, we’ve also included ‘eco pick’ stickers next to products that are eco-friendly and feature sustainable lifestyle solutions –like which clothes you can wash less and save water, and how to reduce your carbon footprint. And who better to cover this ground-breaking issue than the new voice of Gen-Z.
When the 45th president of the United States tweeted, ‘Can you imagine the furor [sic] of a show, ‘Whiteish’! Racism at highest level?’ the break-out star of Black-ish (the prime-time sitcom he was referring to), Yara Shahidi, ignored him. ‘That tweet was just laughable,’ Yara says. ‘But to see, years later, that it came from a man who’s now the president is pretty surreal. You do get angry, but then you get motivated.’
Not that Yara needed any motivation. This is the kid who set up her first corporation aged seven (to manage her business affairs as a child actor) and spent her 18th birthday rallying the youth of America to use their vote, with her Eighteen x 18 campaign. As a star of award-winning Black-ish, and her own spinoff show, Grown-ish, she used the red carpet at the Teen Choice Awards 2017 to shine a spotlight on the riots simultaneously taking place in Charlottesville.
Currently studying at Harvard University, after former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote her a recommendation letter (though we’ve been pre-warned not to discuss this), Yara is a thoroughly modern movie star who is busting the cliché of lazy, selfie-obsessed, narcissistic Millennials.
‘There are plenty of selfies on my [Instagram] page,’ she is quick to add. ‘And theoretically, I’m Gen Z, but I think the same stereotypes are held and I can personally attest to the passion, interests and curiosity that so many of my peers have that motivate them on a regular basis. We assume a lot about a person by their digital presence. But appreciating yourself and your outfit does not negate the fact that you care about the world around you.’
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to an Iranian-American father (‘Baba’) and a mother (‘Mama’) who is African-American and Native Choctaw, show business is in the genes. The family moved to California when Yara was four years old, where her mother became a commercial actress and her father a director and photographer – later becoming Prince’s personal photographer (her two younger brothers, Sayeed and Ehsan, are child actors and models). There once existed a signed, framed headshot of seven-year-old Yara at Prince’s home that read, ‘Dear Mr Prince, heart Yara,’ and aged 12, she danced on stage with him at the Los Angeles Forum.
This winter, Yara takes the lead in the much-hyped film adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s novel The Sun Is Also A Star, a coming-of-age love story that digs a level deeper than most. Opening with the words, ‘What does America mean to you?’ it is the timely tale of Natasha (Yara), whose family are about to be deported from New York to Jamaica when she falls in love with Daniel (Charles Melton), the son of Korean immigrants. It is the human story behind US immigration laws.
Yara’s own glorious halo of natural curls became the defining feature of the ‘Yarbie’ doll she designed this year to celebrate Barbie’s 60th anniversary as part of a new, more inclusive ‘Sheroes’ range. Gone was the waspish waist, incomprehensibly long legs and blonde blow-dry, and in its place was a doll with fierce eyebrows, a sharp suit and a tee that read ‘vote’.
‘For me, fashion is a warning of who you are about to mess with,’ Yara, who is now a Chanel ambassador, once said. Right now, she’s wearing a bright blue Adidas tracksuit. ‘It’s my staple,’ she tells me. ‘I do not know how many tracksuits I own but I can tell you I wear every one, partially because it’s comfortable, partially because you put one on and 85% of your outfit already matches. In terms of the law of least effort, all I have to do is find a shirt that doesn’t totally clash. Often I end up looking like an entire neon light but I don’t mind.’ I suspect there are few teenagers who can apply a mathematical formula to the process of getting dressed. But then again, there are few teenagers quite like Yara Shahidi.
Get Your Hands on Our May/June Green Issue, Out Now!
In this issue, we also feature next-gen voices in our 25 Under 25 roundup – disruptors who are shaping the future of South Africa. And in the spirit of going green, COSMO will run a seven-day reader challenge – #COSMOPlasticBreakup – to raise awareness around plastic pollution. This will be a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme.
For more on Yara Shahidi, pick up our May/June 2019 issue on newsstands 20 May, or click here to subscribe.