Here Come The Girls
Zara Larsson, Teddy Quinlivan, Sherrie Silver, Lauren Simmons & Noor Tagouri
Boundary pushers, award winners, history makers: the achievements of these five Incredible Girls are galvanizing Gen Z. But their tenacity, courage and strength in the face of adversity will make every woman, at any age, sit up and listen
Noor Tagouri, 25, is a journalist who has produced prejudice-challenging documentaries and podcasts about subjects such as sex trafficking and the victimization of people with mental disabilities. Born and raised in the United States, Tagouri is a Muslim with Libyan heritage, and started wearing the hijab when she was 15. Her talent, persistence and ability to tell illuminating stories for the marginalized has led her to add activism and public speaking to her résumé, as well as earning her front-row seats at fashion shows and spots in campaigns for brands such as Glossier.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
My name is Noor Tagouri and I’m a journalist, and therefore it’s really hard for me to describe myself in one line.
When you were 10 years old, what did you want to do with your life?
I just so badly loved telling stories. I have these videos of me aged 8 ‘doing the news’. On television, everybody was blond-haired and blue-eyed, so I went through phases where I would dye my hair blond or wear colored contact lenses because that’s what I saw and that’s what I thought I needed to be. I used to swear I was never going to wear the hijab. It wasn’t until I was 15 and I was lost and trying to find myself that I eventually put it on. My parents never said anything to me about wearing the hijab because they knew I wanted to be on television and we had never seen anybody on television wearing it. So then when I put it on, my parents were like, ‘You can do this – you can be the first one.’ I want to get to a point, and build up enough people, so that in 10 years when you turn on the television and you see somebody in hijab, you don’t even flinch, because it’s so normal.
What is the greatest challenge you’re facing?
When you are a minority, you are seen as what your identifying factor is before what your work is, and that’s something that I’ve always fought against. People say, ‘Oh, yeah, Noor, she’s that hijabi journalist,’ instead of, ‘Oh, she’s the journalist that reported on the sex trade.’ I remember thinking there were certain jobs that I couldn’t take because I knew that I would be pigeon-holed into telling stories that were only about my community. And I was trying to make a point that no, that’s not my job. I should be treated like every other journalist and I should be able to tell any stories.
What pressures do you feel under?
There’s a pressure when you are in the public eye and you have a distinct identity that you end up being a representative for that entire community. And that’s tough, because there are almost four million Muslims in the United States, and that means there are four million ways to be a Muslim in the United States. It’s easier to paint everybody with one brush, but when you become a storyteller – which doesn’t always have to be [as] a journalist, just in anything you do, if you start to collect stories – you quickly realize that everybody has their own experience and is an individual. And that’s how we should see people, because that’s the only way we’re going to gain true perspective and understanding of others.
When we feel powerless, what can we do to help?
As a human being, you are not responsible for taking care of the entire world. You are responsible for living your life in your purpose. Your purpose is combining your skills and talents with the causes that pain you. For people who feel like they don’t know where to start or they don’t have the ability to do something, ask those around you what you can do to be of service to them. Find a place to volunteer; be a listener; be willing to sit with people in their pain. We all have the ability to be there for other people. And if you don’t feel like you are in a mental space where you’re able to do that, then your act of service is working on healing yourself, because you can’t give if you have nothing to give from.
Where does your motivation come from to do what you do?
From my faith. A hundred percent. My faith is rooted in living for something bigger than yourself and living in service, and I have found purpose in all of that. People think prayer and fasting or whatever are the acts of service, but it’s the simplest things; like, in Islam, we have a saying, ‘smiling is considered a form of charity’. So if you can’t give money or time or anything like that, if you smile at someone, that counts as charity. That belief system has given me so much fulfillment and so much motivation because every day I get to wake up and know that I’m living for something bigger than myself.
What would you like your bio to say in 20 years’ time?
‘Noor Tagouri, at your service.’
Interview by Jennifer Dickinson
Sherrie Silver, 24, is a dancer, choreographer and actor. Born in Rwanda, she moved to the UK aged five, and now bases herself between there and the States, collaborating with superstars like Childish Gambino (she won multiple awards for her work with him on This Is America) and brands including Nike, using dance to educate about African cultures. Silver is also a United Nations IFAD advocate for Rural Youth, supporting young people in poorer communities. It’s something she knows a great deal about, having set up a charity called Wall Rebuilders, through which she provides permanent accommodation and health insurance for homeless children. She also runs vocational training centers that provide children with access to education, dental and hygiene check programs.
Describe yourself in one line.
I’m an actress, a creative director, choreographer and a philanthropist… A woman who aims to use her talents to inspire young people all over the world.
When you were 10, what did you want to do with your life?
I always wanted to perform; I liked how people would get excited about seeing me dance or sing. I also wanted to be a surgeon at one point, but that dream did not last long. I got a role in a film in 2010, and I was like, ‘Actually, yeah, I probably don’t wanna be a surgeon…’
How did living in Rwanda and London shape you?
Living back home [in Rwanda] shaped me to be a hustler, to be able to be innovate and not to be lazy. Even going to the well made me realize, ‘If you don’t go to the well you’re not gonna get water, so you better get up and go.’ Whereas in England, it’s just, go to the tap. I mean, don’t get it twisted, there’s water in Africa, but I’m talking about myself, personally. So running from the airport, working and then [going again]? I’m born for this. I’ve been trained to be a go-getter.
What’s your mission right now?
Through my talent, I’m able to make money and I’m able to take that money and change other people’s lives, like giving people health insurance so they can go to the hospital, getting homeless kids off the street into a home, giving female ex-prostitutes new life by giving them sewing machine training in my workshop… That’s what I live for.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
There’s a lot. Being dark-skinned in the industry, people will actually tell you, ‘You know at one point you’re gonna have to lighten your skin, right?’ That made me want to be myself, just dark-skinned Sherrie, even more. I wanna be that dark-skinned girl who’s gonna show other dark-skinned girls that they don’t have to bleach and they don’t have to change themselves for other people. I’m genuinely so in love with myself. I actually look in the mirror and admire my skin, admire my body.
How do you walk into a room and just feel confident?
When you’re on set, some of the top videographers and top directors are much older and much more experienced, and they look at you like, ‘Mmmm, this kid…’ So I just have to pretend to be confident and I have to use my voice. When you’re nervous, you tend to be shy and quiet, [but] if I have this idea and I think that this idea can take this commercial or this project from being boring and basic to being hip and cool, then I’m gonna voice it. The most intimidated I’ve ever been was recently when I went to speak at the United Nations IFAD Summit. Everyone in the room was older – you’ve got the Pope, the President of the Dominican Republic – and before I got on stage, they were like, ‘Don’t be upset if nobody smiles, don’t expect to get anything back. Don’t let their energy put you down.’ And I replied, ‘Oh no, I never let anybody take control of my energy, ’cause my energy’s strong.’ And then I went in there and woke them up a little bit. I even got a ‘Whoooo!’ at one point.
What’s been the most pivotal moment in your life so far?
One has been being able to purchase this home for homeless kids – I wanted to do it all my life. The other one was winning MTV VMA and Grammy [awards]… Like, what? A black African girl doing authentic African dancing? What do you mean I’ve won?!
What do you want your bio to say in 20 years’ time?
‘Oscar-winning actress and Grammy award-winning musician Sherrie Silver…’
Interview by Fedora Abu
Zara Larsson, 21, is a Swedish singer and songwriter. She won her home country’s television talent show Talang in 2008, propelling her to national fame at the age of 10. Since then, she has released two albums and collaborated with the likes of Clean Bandit and David Guetta, with a third album due this spring. With 10 years’ experience to draw on already, Larsson is navigating her career, and a typically male-dominated industry, on her own terms.
Noor Tagouri: Describe yourself in one line.
Zara Larsson: My name is Zara, I’m a singer, songwriter, artist and a very happy person.
NT: When you were 10 years old, what did you want to do with your life?
ZL: This exact same thing that I’m doing now. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to sing.
NT: What’s the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome?
ZL: You can’t make people love you, you know what I mean? And that’s what it is, being an artist; you want people to like what you do. I do this for other people as well as for myself – if I only did it for myself, there would be no reason to release my music. You know the saying, ‘You can be the sweetest strawberry and some people don’t like strawberries’? I can’t be more than what I am. I came to the conclusion that what I like, the music I like and who I am as a person is good enough.
NT: What pressures do you feel right now?
ZL: Growing up as a woman in general, I think you are pressured to fit into [a certain look]. I had a hair stylist ask me, ‘When you walk out on the street and you have people recognizing you, do you ever go out without makeup?’ And I do, but honestly, when he asked that, I realized that I would feel very uncomfortable taking a picture without makeup because I don’t feel like I have good skin and I don’t want to disappoint someone by looking ugly if they take a picture with me.
NT: Wow. Do you feel like there’s also an avenue for you being your most authentic self and making other people feel comfortable in their authentic selves?
ZL: Yeah, I think that is a great way of being a good role model – to show imperfections and not FaceTune all my pictures, because that’s not how I look. I want to be that, but at the same time, I’m also just a living woman in this world and even though I’m a role model for some people who might follow me, I’m affected by the standards of how a woman ‘should’ look like, what a woman ‘should’ do.
NT: Is it hard to be a young woman in the music industry?
ZL: I am very lucky that I have a great team around me. I feel very comfortable with the people I work with, in the sense that I can speak up when I don’t like something. When I write, me and my manager always make sure that there’s at least one other girl in the room, ’cause it’s weird when it’s middle-aged men and they’re like, ‘So, we’re gonna write a little song about teenage love’, and you’re like, you can’t relate to me!
NT: Which of your peers most inspire you?
ZL: The first one that popped up in my head was Yara Shahidi, she’s so cool. Zendaya’s super cool, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha… I feel like [for] all of us, [our industries are] way more collaborative and people are really uplifting each other more than competing. We see each other as colleagues more than competition.
NT: What do you want your bio to say in 20 years’ time?
ZL: Hopefully it will say, ‘I still do what I love, but in stadiums’! I wanna have my own record label and I would love to learn how to produce so I can really take control.
Interview by Noor Tagouri. Zara Larsson’s new single, Don’t Worry Bout Me, is out now
Lauren Simmons, 24, became the youngest and only full-time female trader at the high-stakes New York Stock Exchange in March 2017, before departing the floor earlier this year to move into private equity and allow more time for motivational speaking. In January, actress Kiersey Clemons announced that she is set to produce and star in a biographical film about Simmons’ life so far.
Noor Tagouri: Describe yourself in one line.
Lauren Simmons: I’m a history maker.
NT: Tell us about your job. It’s an amazing achievement to be the first and only, but is it lonely?
LS: I left [the stock exchange] and I’m transitioning into private equity. But I was there for two years and I loved it. The guys on the trading floor were family. They were supportive. I know people think that the financial industry is very competitive [but] I think the only people I’ve had competition from, honestly, is other women. I hope that changes.
NT: How can women be better allies to each other?
LS: Actually support one another. Ask each other questions. I don’t think we have to go through the struggles that other women have before us to get to where they’re at; there are easier ways of going about that. Women mentors can be our best support system, because only a woman is gonna know what it feels like to be in a male-dominated field. A man will give you his support, but it’s always going to be different because it’s not coming from a woman’s perspective.
NT: Why do you think that we still have such a long way to go to be equal?
LS: I was the second African-American woman [on the Stock Exchange] in 228 years – 226 when I signed the book – and there have been over a hundred thousand white men on the trading floor. If you’re a minority or you’re a woman and you don’t know about the role, you don’t know to apply for the role. And for the men on the trading floor, if you don’t know any minorities or women to reach out to take the role, then everyone is in their own bubble and that bubble never meshes.
NT: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
LS: I have white women saying I’m not the second African-American, that there have been two or three that have come before me. I look at them and say, I am the second, but really, we’re debating single-digit numbers. There have been tens of thousands of white women, a hundred thousand white men, and we are debating a third, fourth, fifth. Do you realize the argument that we’re having? Do you realize the bigger story behind that?
NT: How do you deal with that type of pettiness?
LS: You keep your head high. I’ve researched these names [of other supposed African-American traders] and these women don’t exist, but the message isn’t about being the second, the message itself is for women to break glass ceilings and to be in male-dominated fields and to be financially savvy.
NT: What pressures are you under?
LS: Imposter syndrome. You know, living up to this… this ‘Lauren’ that has made history and people look at.
NT: I was so happy when I saw your name on the call sheet. I’m so amazed at what you’re doing.
LS: When I arrived and you said, ‘Hi, I’m Noor’, I was like, ‘Yeah, I know, I’ve been fan-girling over you!’
NT: Where does the motivation come from to do what you do?
LS: Definitely my mom and my brother. My twin brother has cerebral palsy and he was an extrovert, larger than life. People with disabilities don’t get the same support that they get throughout elementary and up until high school, so life can be a lot more challenging, and while everybody was going away to college, he couldn’t. So that’s when I knew that I wanted to do more for my brother. He never used his disability as an excuse for anything. And me, an able-bodied person, was not gonna use an excuse, because if my brother was out here, he’d be doing 150 times more than what I’d be doing.
NT: What does the future look like to you?
LS: CEO of my own company. Probably having my own hedge fund. But I’m also a millennial, so maybe I won’t be in finance, maybe I’ll be in politics. Who knows?
Interview by Noor Tagouri
Teddy Quinlivan, 24, is a fashion model from Boston who has walked runways for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dries van Noten. Currently living in Paris, Quinlivan revealed that she is transgender in September 2017, explaining that she felt unable to stay silent about her history when transgender people and their freedoms are being attacked. Since then, her very existence and continued success in the fashion industry has educated and inspired.
Noor Tagouri: Describe yourself in one line.
Teddy Quinlivan: A real bitch!
NT: In that sentence, which word is the most important to you?
TQ: Real. Because I feel like it’s extremely important for me to live my life authentically and as honestly as possible. I spent a big portion of my young life trying to be the person that everybody else wanted me to be… When I came out publicly as transgender [in 2017], I felt like this was the perfect chance for me to just be completely open and honest for the rest of my life about how I feel about things, about how I feel about the way I’m being treated or mistreated.
NT: When you were 10 years old, what did you want to do with your life?
TQ: I wanted to be a spy. Because I was transgender, I couldn’t really be myself and so I was like, well, if I can just adopt these personas and become these different people, put on a disguise and be a spy, then it would be like me living as myself authentically through these various identities.
NT: What would you tell your 10-year-old self?
TQ: When I was younger, I perceived [being transgender] as a choice. As I got older, I started to realize that I’m proud of who I am. I’m Teddy Quinlivan, I’m a model, I’m an activist, and I’m also transgender. When I finally accepted the fact that this is who I am, this is something I can’t really change, then I was like, why do I hate it so much? Why can’t I just embrace it? I learned that the only reason I had so many problems with being trans was because other people had problems with me being trans. So I was like, well, screw you, I’m gonna live my life and I’m going to be me. I’ve felt a lot of comfort in getting over the fact that not everybody has to like me.
NT: What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
TQ: Realizing that there are times where the people that are supposed to be there for you will not be there for you. When I came out publicly with my sexual assault [in April 2018, Quinlivan published an open letter on Instagram revealing the harassment and assault she had endured during her career], most of the people who I thought for sure had my best interests at heart – like my [former modeling] agency, for example – in fact did nothing. They never gave me solutions, they never took action in ways that I felt were appropriate. Coming to that realization, that not only were they actively participating in it by not doing anything, that they weren’t going to help me… I think that has been my biggest struggle to overcome.
At 24 years old, [I’m] learning real life lessons about how to get along in the workplace and how to also stand up for yourself when you feel like it’s appropriate and something needs to be done. When you’re as outspoken as I am, even if you’re being outspoken against really important issues that deserve that time, you have to be willing to accept the consequences, which are that people might not take your side.
I came out [about my sexual assault] because I felt a duty to all the models that came after me to say that this isn’t okay and we as an industry have to stop this. But my sentiment about having to stop this horrible abuse of power hasn’t been met with a lot of agreeance. I think a lot of people agree something should be done, but nobody’s willing to take action. I was willing to take action but I did suffer real-life ramifications… People chose not to work with me anymore because of it, people thought I was lying, people thought I was too controversial… I feel like justice is never easily won.
NT: What would you like your bio to say in 20 years’ time?
TQ: That I was an honest person. That I fought for what was right and what was just.
NT: A real bitch who stands up for what’s right.
NT: Beautiful. This was a pleasure.
TQ: Thank you so much.
Interview by Noor Tagouri
Press play to see exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of our shoot, featuring Zara Larsson, Teddy Quinlivan, Sherrie Silver, Lauren Simmons and Noor Tagouri
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