EIC Versha Sharma on the Maitreyi Ramakrishnan cover of August 2021
When I was younger, I fought with my older sister for copies of our favorite teen magazines. We piled them up in our bedroom to reference the latest fashion trends, pin down the hottest musicians, or take pop relationship quizzes – not that we even really go out as tweens. Magazines were technically verboten in our traditional Indian home, and like a real little sister, I got into trouble with my big sister when I put them aside one day, easily discovered by our parents. (I’m still sorry, Jaya.)
But as fun and fascinating as these magazines are, they rarely, if ever, featured stars who looked like us, two Native American girls born and raised in central Louisiana. They represented what was mainstream Americana in the 90s and early 2000s, a very narrow definition that often didn’t include us, or anyone outside of a very specific, thin white paradigm. If I could go back in time and tell my young self that one day I would be the first South Asian editor of one of those beloved magazines and my first cover would feature another original young lady. South Asian in the foreground. , those days when I felt like I belonged might have been a little easier to digest. (If I had added that this cover star would be photographed surrounded by books – but do it fashion – my young self, a stereotypical spelling nerd who was laughed at in school, would certainly feel extra justification.)
This level of representation just didn’t seem possible, close at hand, or accessible. I still have to pinch myself a little bit now to believe this is all real. But here we are: it’s August 2021, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, 19, the star of the hit Netflix series I have never, is our cover star. Maitreyi is only the second person of South Asian descent to have her own solo Vogue teens cover, and I couldn’t be prouder to have made this possible. She is a Tamil-Canadian actress who wants you to learn to pronounce his name correctly; as she said in a conversation with us last week, “20 letters long, 20 letters strong”.
When it was announced in May that I would be the next editor, many publications used a photo of mine in which I wear my manga sutra, a traditional Indian necklace (translates to “auspicious thread”) that brides wear after their wedding. It is essentially the Indian version of an alliance. It was not a conscious decision on my part to wear it that day; I wear it often because I love it – it ties into my Indian heritage and like all sutras in the manga it has a beautiful design. What I couldn’t have predicted was how others would react. After the announcement, my inbox was flooded with messages from other Indian women who told me they liked me wearing it in the headshot. Just that little piece of representation – a necklace that many people maybe didn’t even notice – meant something to them, because they saw themselves, in a way that is still rare. (There was also a little debate whether or not I represented a patriarchal tradition by carrying it, which is a chronicle for another time; suffice to say for now that I am staunchly feminist and pro-crushing patriarchy.)
And that’s what Maitreyi is doing for brunette girls everywhere, and one of the reasons I’m so excited to have her on this blanket: She lets us see each other in a way that doesn’t really matter. been described before. The burden of representation is not easy; there is a lot of unrealistic and unfair pressure to be fully inclusive when it just isn’t possible, given the wide range of South Asian identities and experiences (which applies to all communities). But Maitreyi takes on that burden with aplomb and a thoughtful conscience, which is clear from our cover story, written by Aamina Khan, a Pakistani American writer. One of my favorite quotes from Maitreyi in the interview: “We can’t keep relying on Mindy Kaling to keep doing all of these shows. I want her to keep doing more. But I need more people with her.