Recently, National Geographic Magazine solved a 17-year-old mystery by finding the identity of an Afghan girl with haunting green eyes who was the subject of one of its most timeless images. The response from some Americans afterward opened my eyes.
The photographer, Steve McCurry, photographed the girl in a refugee camp near the Pakistani border in 1984, but wasn’t able to get her name. She had just lost both of her parents in a bombing during the Soviet occupation. Years after the photo made the cover of the magazine, McCurry always wondered what became of her.
On a trip back to Afghanistan, McCurry and a National Geographic team revisited the refugee camp they had seen in 1984. To their surprise they found the Afghan girl’s brother who claimed the she was now married with children and lived nearby.
When they found her, she never even knew her image had been on the cover but remembered when it had been taken because it was the only time in her life she had ever been photographed. She then agreed to have her photo taken once again for the magazine.
Being a photographer myself, I was interested to find out the story about this woman’s life when National Geographic made its announcement. I also decided to look at Internet postings on America Online to see what other people were thinking. I was shocked and disappointed by what I read.
Here is a sample of actual postings about McCurry’s photograph and the Afghan girl now (these postings are edited as they appeared):
“I was hoping to find a picture of her in a bikini. Then or now, I’ll settle for anything. Does anyone know where I could find a picture of her at the beach, or something.” /_” HippieInACloset
“There is NO WAY that those pictures match…check out the nasal structure…not even close…unless she had plastic surgery, which in her case, I would sue the doctor.” /_” CYNDIBBW
“she is as ugly as hell. What did she do to herself. People shouldn’t talk about her at all.” /_” SHELIA
“Did we need a repeat picture? Waste of film.. waste of money and waste of space. This is just pity calling from the past to the present. Why should we pity Afghanistan? There’s a whole lot better things that National Geographic can do than finding her. They got lucky to found her. I hope it’s the last picture we see from there till the country is truely cleaned up.” /_” TurnTo
“this makes me sick !!!! why is this ugly towel head’s picture on my screen ?????” /_” JW81176
“Wow.. I bet half.. no more.. men on here haven’t seen a woman who has had a life of poverty, destruction and knowing no better.. never to see the light of day for a tan under that damn burka.. I think a little makeup, good lighting.. a new veil.. this gal could be gorgeous.. take this from a makeup artist!” /_” HMU11407
“afghan people must have been god’s mistake, jeeez they are ugly..no wonder all they want to do is kill and make war..they have nothing to look forward to but being ugly…” /_” Kwandaa2
It is possible that National Geographic faked the photo, but I do not think it is likely. If they had, it would contradict everything journalists, especially ones from one of the most highly regarded magazines in the world, try to accomplish. A journalist’s duty is to tell the truth of what is really going on in the world. If it is an ugly picture we should take notice and do something to change it.
The shallowness of the people on the Internet posting has succeeded in proving to me that beauty is truly skin deep no matter if you are from America or Afghanistan. McCurry’s photograph showed that I was right to be sympathetic to the people of Afghanistan. What I didn’t expect was that I should be just as worried about the ugliness and immaturity of people in my own country.
Josh Hardin is a senior majoring in technical journalism. To see the photographs, point your browser to: www.nationalgeographic.com.