The murder of an Instagram star

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/tara_fares

When Tara died, social media immediately became a battleground. She had always been controversial.

Even in the wake of her death, there were hostile messages with some users branding her a “whore”.

But there were just as many defending her.

In many parts of the world, Tara’s Instagram would not have been remotely controversial.

The pictures showed off her taste in clothes, her attitude and her tattoos.

But tattoos are still a radical statement in Iraq. Tara had started with tiny ones on her fingers – a crescent, an arrow. There was a floral pattern on her arm. Photos showed an Arabic line tattooed under her neck reading “Ma yhizak reeh” – a saying that hints at someone being “unbreakable”.

Also the Arabic name “Ali” appeared on her left shoulder. Then, in newer photos, there was a female face, a rose covering the back of her hand and a lion’s head spreading on her wrist and lower arm.

In most of her photos she was casually dressed in loose jumpers or simple T-shirts, loose trousers, shorts, jeans and long shirts. The colour and length of her hair were constantly changing.

In some photos taken not long before her death, she appeared wearing black lingerie or a nude bodysuit, stylish bra with jewellery draped across her chest or a blazer without anything underneath.

All of these were risqué by Iraq’s standards.

“She was different,” says Majd. “She was different because of her style and clothes. The rest of the Iraqi models are strict – or at least their families are. It is very difficult to convince an Iraqi model to wear an off-the-shoulder or a cropped top.”

Tara didn’t care. She wore what she wanted.

The content of her blogs was light. It was a cocktail of daily activities, including eating in her room, going to the gym or to restaurants with friends, travel and fashion.

Like many young Iraqis, Tara was not worried about expressing her political opinion, especially in the beginning, when she was less well-known. She was not an activist, she just said what was on her mind.

In the summer of 2015, when Iraq seemed to be at boiling point, crowds were taking to the streets over declining living conditions, and demanding political reforms. Amid electricity shortages, protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, near the Freedom Monument.

A young protester was killed. In a clip, Tara said in Arabic: “The police and army opened fire on the protesters. Why is this? This is the first time we had seen this scene – Sunni, Shia and Kurds all together singing the national anthem. Is it nice that such a young man became a martyr?”

On other occasions, she criticised corruption and corrupt politicians. In the last two years of her life, she seemed to focus on individual liberties.

“Oh people, live your day to the fullest. Do what you love. Make your choices real whether people like it or not.”

Her level of Instagram fame wasn’t unique in Iraq. There were other social media stars – a singer, a poet, a beauty queen who became a TV presenter.

But Tara was somehow different, more outrageous. She shocked people. She swore, she smoked.

That brash persona hadn’t always existed. Tara had created herself.

Once, long ago, she was a very different person – a teenager in a wedding dress.

An old photo taken, most probably, in 2012, shows Tara standing in a room, clad all in white, wearing heavy make-up, with her hair pulled up and decorated with a shiny crown. A big golden necklace covers her chest – possibly the groom’s gift.

Similar photos could be found in albums of many brides in Baghdad. Nothing was significant, Tara looked like a very ordinary bride.

But she was only 16, and being forced to marry.

Years later, once she was famous, Tara used a Snapchat story to tell the tale of this unhappy relationship. In the story she wears a camouflage jacket, a thick set of eyelashes and uses the pink-and-yellow flower crown filter. Then she talks about the short, unhappy time she spent with her ex-husband.

She described him as “low and mean” – accusing him of beating her up.

She spent her pregnancy at her parents’ house and once the boy was born, his father arranged to take him from Tara. She had lost her child.

“I was a child, only 17. What could I have done?” she later said in an interview on YouTube.

She never saw her son again.

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