Industries in Depth

This UK scheme wants girls to fill their social media feeds with positive role models

Members of the public use their mobile devices to take photographs of Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at a walk about in Brisbane, April 19, 2014. Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate are on the second leg of a 19 day official visit to New Zealand and Australia with their son George.   REUTERS/Phil Noble (AUSTRALIA - Tags: ROYALS POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3LVTI

Disrupting the feed ... a new project aims to give girls' social media a makeover. Image: REUTERS/Phil Noble

Charlotte Edmond
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What do Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Beyoncé all have in common?

Well, aside from fame, wealth, and a glittering lifestyle, they have among the biggest Instagram followings on the planet.

Together, they appear in many millions of social media feeds a day. But the impact following a limited range of people can have on young people’s health and wellbeing is a growing cause of concern.

Have you read?

The problems social media use has been linked to – from eating disorders and negative body image to anxiety and lack of self-confidence – are well documented, but research to date has largely focused on limiting exposure and online safety.

A new project soon to be rolled out to kids across the UK is aiming to change that.

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg arrives to board the Malizia II boat in Plymouth, Britain.
Image: REUTERS/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Schools are being shown a study for which teenage girls were asked to follow at least four inspirational women. Some of them were famous, like lawyer, writer and former first lady Michelle Obama, climate change activist Greta Thunberg, and tennis star Serena Williams. Others were less well-known, doing inspirational work in science, engineering or the arts.

Those participating in the study, Disrupting the Feed, overwhelmingly said their self-esteem had improved and their horizons expanded, setting themselves – and achieving – higher goals.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

A more diverse feed

The study cites research into 2 million teenage social media accounts by data science company Starcount that found most girls limited their social media interests to beauty, fashion, and reality TV. Boys, meanwhile, had an average of 12 different interests.

By following new and inspiring people, teenagers can set their digital footprints on a new path, with social media algorithms showing a more diverse feed as a result.


Introducing more positive role models into teenage girls’ feeds resulted in more positive actions in the offline world, with girls having higher and more focused personal and career aspirations. But it also prompted more positive interactions with social media overall. Girls in the study chose to adopt healthier practices such as taking breaks from social media and rethinking who they followed, and removing those who had a negative impact on their self-esteem.

So, who do I follow?

Here are some of the positive role models suggested by the Female Lead, the charitable organization behind the study.

Callie Thorpe celebrates women’s bodies in all shapes and sizes. She promotes a positive attitude and acceptance and tries to help others overcome their insecurities.

Jess Megan also promotes body confidence and has worked as an ambassador for organizations such as breast cancer charity CoppaFeel to help normalize women’s bodies of all kinds.

Sophie Radcliffe is an endurance athlete and fitness blogger, who encourages young people to be active. She set up TrailBlazers, an initiative which aims to empower and build confidence in young girls.

Katherine Grainger is the most decorated female British Olympian of all time, and the chair of government Olympic and Paralympic investment agency UK Sport.

Kimberley Wilson is a chartered psychologist specializing in a “whole body” approach to mental health. She writes about the impact of eating well and lifestyle on mental wellbeing.

Stemettes says it wants to inspire the next generation of girls to get involved in STEM subjects, showing them that “girls do science, technology and maths too”.

For other suggestions of who to follow, click here.

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