The Devil is in the Context: Aisha and the Time magazine cover

“This week’s Time magazine featured an 18-year-old Afghan girl named Aisha on the cover. Aisha’s face is framed with dark hair and a loose scarf; it looks like any other portrait Time might publish.” – Patheos, 2010


In many ways all photos are exploitation. They are all taking and using an image for a purpose, whether this be at a benefit or detriment to the subject of the photo. So when contemplating the morality of Time’s magazine cover featuring Aisha, it ultimately comes down to whether Aisha had agency in the depiction of herself and whether she was making crucial choices.

Exploitation of suffering for financial gain is almost always an immoral act, but there is one way that almost justifies it.

“This reasoning follows what many might agree is the definition and purpose of good journalism. The things that are hard to look at are often the things that are most necessary to look at. Whether readers think the cover is bold or too graphic, the shock value cannot be denied.” – Meenal Vamburkar, 2010

The story Aisha is telling and portraying in the cover of Time magazine is important, that is undeniable. So by common reasoning, this is good journalism and is deserving of reward which in this sense would be monetary. But really this justification seems a bit flimsy, at it seems like a “for the greater good” arguement, which ignores the individual suffering of people. This arguement can stand true, but only with other factors.

Ultimately, people should own their suffering. I’m not declaring that you should own it in the way of freely sharing it and making it a visible part of your identity, but more in the sense that you have complete copyright of that sensitive material which you can use as you see fit. If Aisha was purposefully and without cohesion giving her suffering to Time to use to further and better demonstrate the real world consequences of the issues raised in the issue of Afghanistan, than that is justified.


MMW Roundtable on Time Magazine’s Aisha Cover. 2015. MMW Roundtable on Time Magazine’s Aisha Cover. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 May 2015].

Controversy Over Time Magazine Cover Showing Mutilated Afghan Woman – The Wire. 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15 May 2015].

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