Lily Cole reveals she's 'learnt a lot' after posing in Afghani burqa

Lily Cole claims her five-year-old daughter chose her controversial Afghani Burqa for Instagram – and says she’s ‘learned a lot’ after coming under fire for using the image to promote her new book

  • Lily Cole, 33, was slammed for posing in an Afghani burqa to promote new book 
  • Model appeared on Woman’s Hour and said she’s ‘learnt a lot’ following backlash 
  • Said she ‘didn’t engage’ in it but saw enough hostility and violence that she ‘kind of checked out’

Lily Cole has revealed she’s ‘learnt a lot’ after she was slammed for posing in an Afghani burqa to promote her new book on climate change as Afghanistan fell into the tyrannical and misogynistic hands of the Taliban – and claimed her five-year-old daughter actually chose the photo.   

The British supermodel, 33, who lives in Portugal with her boyfriend Kwame Ferreira and their five-year-old daughter Wylde, appeared on Woman’s Hour and explained to host Emma Barnett about the ‘backlash’ she faced after she posted a photograph of herself wearing a blue burka on Instagram and what it has taught her.  

She shared the post to ‘celebrate diversity’ and promote her new book on sustainability, but later deleted the photos and apologised. They were posted as Afghanistan was being taken over by the Taliban in August, who forced women to wear the burka when they were last in control there in the 1990s.  

‘Well I stand by my quote, what I wrote about diversity and all types of diversity,’ she said on the radio show. ‘I wholeheartedly stand by that and it’s a big ethos of everything I do, is a need to respect different cultures and learn from different cultures.


Lily Cole has been slammed for posing in an Afghani burqa to promote her new book on climate change – as Afghanistan fell into the tyrannical and misogynistic forces of the Taliban

Dozens of people commented on the Instagram post before she then deleted it

She continued: ‘In terms of the image, I think what I really learnt is don’t post on social media when you’re not reading the news, because I had been away for two weeks taking a really, kind of, intentional break from social media, from the media, and spending time with my daughter. And I knew that the book was coming out so I was creating posts around it.

‘I actually, I mean I don’t blame her at all, but I’d shown a bunch of pictures of myself to my daughter to say: “Oh, which one should I put with it?” And she’d chosen that image. Of course, because of the naivety of a child, she didn’t have any understanding of the context.’

The model and climate campaigner shared two pictures to Instagram of herself wearing the face covering. 

In one, the blue veil covers her face while in a second she reveals her face and looks directly at the camera. She uploaded the provocative photos to promote her new book Who Care Wins: Reasons For Optimism in Our Changing World.

Encouraging followers to buy her book, she wrote: ‘It’s out. Let’s embrace diversity on every level: biodiversity; cultural diversity; diversity of thinking; diversity of voices; diversity of ideas.’

But speaking on Woman’s Hour, Lily went on to say how she has lots of Muslim friends and had always felt ‘sympathetic’ to the issues that thy face and of the ‘rising islamophobia in our culture.’ 

Lily Cole explained that because of her daughter’s ‘naivety’ of being a child, she didn’t have ‘any understanding of the context’ when she selected the photo

Lily has posted an apology on her Instagram story with links to Afghan women’s organisations she says she’s donated to

She continued: ‘And that was the intention with which I put it together. I hadn’t looked at the media and that was my massive mistake and that’s why I immediately apologised and took it down and have spent more time, I think, trying to understand the particular issues around that particular garment, because I don’t think I was educated enough at the time I posted it.

‘And so I’ve been meeting people from Afghanistan, talking to my Muslim friends, learning more. So yeah, I think I learnt a lot.’

The campaigner also went on to say how she thinks it’s useful that the public can ‘backlash’ because that’s how we ‘learn’ and ‘grow as a culture’ – but highlighted the importance of pushing against violent language online.

When Emma went on to ask whether she received violent language and abuse, Lily replied: ‘Yeah, I did. I didn’t engage in it too much to see it all but I saw enough hostility and violence that I kind of checked out. And I’ve seen that happen to many other people before.

‘We’re all very familiar with that. You know, I’ve spoken out in the past, before this incident about not agreeing with that culture online.

‘And I think it’s a very dangerous culture because I think that what it ultimately does is it silences people. It makes people afraid to get something wrong. And also just violence and aggression is never I don’t think, a useful way to solve issues.’ 

Lily uploaded the provocative photos to promote her new book Who Care Wins: Reasons For Optimism in Our Changing World

Many were quick to criticise the now-deleted picture, saying she was guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘putting Instagram gesturing above human rights’.

At the time, many were quick to criticise the now-deleted picture, saying Lily was guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘putting Instagram gesturing above human rights’.

‘The oppression of Afghan girls is to be fought, not cosplayed. This is disgusting,’ wrote one.  

The pictures, which were posted to her 95,000 followers, remained up for three days before being deleted. 

Shortly after, she issued a grovelling apology saying the burqa was ‘borrowed from a friend’ and she wasn’t aware of the news of the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan and that the post was ‘incredibly ill-timed’. 

It was posted at a time when the Taliban took control of Kabul, securing their power over the nation by posing in the presidential palace, causing many Afghan women to desperately flee the country in fear of their own lives.

During Taliban rule in the 1990s, women were forced to wear coverings from head to toe, not allowed to work or attend schools and not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.  

Despite her apology, she had earlier defended her choice – saying she believes the garment was from Pakistan, and that for her ‘diversity meant choice’.

A British soldier stands guard as hundreds of civilians are loaded on to an evacuation flight at Kabul airport after the tarmac was cleared of thousands of people desperately trying to flee

Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban declared an ‘amnesty’ across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country

Slamming the model, The Times columnist Janice Turner wrote on Twitter: ‘Lily Cole and the vacuity of modern hashtag-feminism. Putting Instagram posturing before universal human rights.

‘I bet Afghan women are celebrating the ‘diversity’ of wearing this shroud.’ 

Activist Caroline Criado Perez – who successfully campaigned to get Jane Austin’s face on the £10 note – added: ‘I just went to check her Insta as I couldn’t believe that would be recent (not that it would be ok if it were not) and… three days ago. Holy s*** Why?’ 

CEO of Staffordshire Women’s Aid Dickie James MBE added: ‘White, Western identity politics and privilege pretending to be feminism. Yuk!’ 

Another Twitter user wrote: ‘Playing dress up as a subjugated woman. That’s definitely a sign of a well rounded personality.’

‘The self-indulgence and lack of awareness from her is staggering. So inappropriate and thoughtless,’ said another. 

Others pointed out how she was insensitive by posing with nail polish in the pictures, because many Afghan girls had their fingers amputated for wearing nail polish in the 1990s. 

The model, 33, married entrepreneur Kwame Ferreira in 2012 and the pair have been living in Portugal with their five-year-old daughter Wylde for the past year (The couple are pictured in London in 2016)

Lily, who last week came out as ‘queer’, posted an apology on her Instagram story with links to Afghan women’s organisations she says she’s donated to.

She wrote: ‘This week I posted an old photo of me wearing a burqa loaned to me by a friend, as she pointed out I was undermining its original purpose by wearing it with my face exposed, but I understand why the image has upset people and want to sincerely apologise for any offence caused.

‘I hadn’t read the news at the time I posted so it was incredibly ill timed (thank you for pointing that out to me).

‘My heart breaks reading about what is happening in Afghanistan at the moment, and in looking for organisations helping women on the ground I can support, I thought I would share some I found/ donated to.’

Despite her apology, she had earlier defended her choice – saying she believes the garment was from Pakistan, and that for her ‘diversity meant choice’. 

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