I am very much aware of the power of words and the power of images. As a Head telling teenagers don’t often means they do. Telling teenagers not to use social media doesn’t stop them and ignores the benefits that social media can bring. So, it was with great interest that I attended a workshop, run by The Female Lead, at the recent GSA Heads’ Conference that addressed this very issue.
The Female Lead commissioned a data science company to analyse the social media accounts of thousands of UK teenagers. They found that the majority of teenage girls’ social media accounts fixate on beauty, a diet of fashion and celebrities, following stars not for what they did but for what they looked like. Amongst this group when asked who they thought were the 50 most influential celebrities, 72% of their names were male. However, for those girls who followed at least two powerful women on social media, 80% of their top 50 of the most influential celebrities were female. A significant shift in mind-set.
Their research found that if you offered teenagers a diverse range of female role models to follow on social media, it transformed how they engaged across their channels. By following powerful female role models, they began to describe themselves in more positive terms, using words such as ‘aspire’, ‘dream’ and ‘enthusiast’. They began to see social media as a means for education and learning. Their algorithms began to change and started to flag up a greater diversity of content, as they began to link themselves to organisations that resonated with their passions and convictions, reinforcing their self-belief and positivity. Instead of following celebrities that made them depressed, by their focus on impossible looks, they followed role models who shared their passion and aspirations, and offered exposure to new viewpoints and perspectives.
This has made me think, it is time to disrupt the social media feed. As a Head, as teachers, and as parents we should be introducing positive female role models that our girls can follow on Instagram and Twitter, making positive use of the platforms that all teenagers are using. By offering a diverse range of role models, it would help them connect with women who had the potential to inspire, drive their ambition and build self-esteem. It would enable us to have discussions about what these women are saying and doing, allowing our girls to believe that they too could be like them.
I would like to recommend two powerful female voices to follow. Samantha Power former US Ambassador to the UN, academic and human rights advocate: @SamanthaJPower (Twitter), @samanthajpower (Instagram) and Jude Kelly, CBE, theatre director and Founder of the Women of the World Festival: @JudeKelly_ (Twitter).