Between 1950 – 1953, the number of women attending University in India had doubled from the years before. Consequently, this burgeoning population of educated, informed women formed a potential market for English language women-magazines.
After Frene Talyarkhan, the Editor of Trend, had a fallout with her employers at Eves Weekly, she started her own periodical, Flair. Flair was later sold to the Times of India Group, and Femina was born.
The first Femina issue appeared on stands in July 1959. Over the decades, the magazine documented and influenced the rise of the “new, modern Indian woman”. It advocated for women’s financial inclusion, and other social issues, creating a network of women from across the subcontinent & where it was exported (e.g : Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, etc!). The magazine archives offer a glimpse into the trends that impacted India’s women – ranging from food, fashion and relationships to careers. To us at The Heritage Lab, it told us about the many accomplished women (like Frene Talyarkhan) who continue to be missing from the narrative or remain under-represented.
Femina, a nationally circulated magazine, responds to dramatic changes in the lives of middle class women in India.Radha Saran Hegde (1995), Recipes for Change: Weekly Help for Indian Women,
Women’s Studies in Communication 18:2, 177-188, DOI: 10.1080/07491409.1995.11089797
Take a look at some vintage Femina covers that trace the journey of India’s oldest surviving women’s magazine.
Femina : the first cover (July 1959)
Femina’s first cover girl was ‘Shirin Jairazbhoy’. The then editor, Frene Talyarkhan described her as a “successful working mother who works in her architect husband’s office; and who manages to adhere to a rigid schedule of preparing meals before and after office hours.”
Femina cover : August 1959
This issue featured Priya Rajvansh, an Indian actress remembered for her portrayal as Heer in the movie Heer Ranjha (1970). In 1959, when this cover was shot, she was already popular as a theatre actress in Simla.
Femina cover : November 1959
In 1959, Mrinalini Sarabhai, one of India’s foremost classical dancers graced the cover of Femina. By the early 1950s, Mrinalini Sarabhai was an established international artist, and the country’s favourite cultural ambassador. The 1959 Femina issue stated that “she [had] taken Indian culture into countries where India and Indians still [meant] no more than bejewelled Maharajas and naked snake charmers.”
Femina cover : July 1960
Can you guess the artist featured in this 1960 cover?
Femina cover : July 1965
This cover features Persis Khambatta – one of India’s best known supermodels. She won the Miss India title in 1965 and frequently appeared in advertisements for Air India. Khambatta went on to act in Hollywood movies but is best remembered for her role in “Star Trek”. She went bald for the role and was nominated for an Oscar. In 1980, she became the first Indian to present an Academy Award.
Femina cover : January 1961
Interestingly, the 1960s witnessed a male editor at the helm of Femina’s content. The magazine, unlike its contemporary Eve’s Weekly, had a nationwide readership. You can read a debate about women’s education here from the 1961 issue.
Femina cover : September 1961
Femina was sold and distributed in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries as well.
Femina cover : August 1974
This cover featuring Shabana Azmi appeared a couple of months before the release of her debut movie, Ankur (also Shyam Benegal’s directorial debut). It was Azmi’s first shoot for Femina and marked a pivotal moment in India’s cinematic history – the rise of the parallel cinema.
Femina cover : November 1976
Protima Bedi, the Odissi dancer graced the cover for this issue of Femina. In the 1970s, the magazine had a female editor (Vimla Patil) again; its content too, started to reflect the global conversations about women’s liberation and equality.
Femina cover : 1977
Featuring Indira Gandhi, India’s first female Prime Minister. Gandhi, an iconic political figure found herself facing several controversies in the 1970s. Here’s an interview from the issue. There’s also an older interview here from the 1968 issue of Femina.
Femina cover : December, 1977
Femina Cover : September 1981
The 1980s saw Femina focus on then-taboo topics like menstruation, sexuality and financial independence. This cover from 1981 features actress Neena Gupta.
We hope you liked the selection – if you have any old scans / images of Femina covers that spotlight stories about women, we’d love to know!