On Twitter, there’s a growing movement of young women who post and share personal photos of each other as part of a deliberate move to empower one another.
Many of the photos get hundreds of retweets and are shared widely by a highly supportive group of complete strangers.
BuzzFeed News talked to some of the teenagers about why they are posting strangers’ selfies. At their request, BuzzFeed News has only used their first names.
Jennifer, 19, New York
“(I share selfies) to uplift women. Whether they’re my friend, or a stranger I haven’t even met on Twitter, everyone deserves to feel positively about their body and all it takes is a compliment,” Jennifer told BuzzFeed News.
“Lack of self-esteem can wreak havoc on people’s mental health, or is even sometimes a result of that, so I try to do anything I can to help other women.
“It’s really important for women to support women because misogyny and sexism are so widespread, it’s harder to be liberated from it if we let it divide us.”
Jennifer starting sharing her own photos online about two years ago. At first she posted the occasional photo but mostly used her account for interacting with friends and the bands she loved. Now, she is far more likely to share a personal photo about an issue she is passionate about than to post a gushing tweet about a boy band.
“Loving ourselves is an act of protest”
“I’ve participated in hashtags like #PraisinTheAsian and #QPOCVisibilityDay because people like me (in terms of my heritage and sexual orientation) are underrepresented in society and often degraded when we are being represented. I think the main thing that motivates me to post my selfies is that it’s not just a photo of me, it’s a smaller part of me that does something bigger. For instance, sharing my selfies in #PraisinTheAsian doesn’t just show people what an Asian person can look like, it also demands that our stories be heard because they’re so often ignored.”
Jennifer admits sharing selfies does have a level of “vanity and shallowness” to it but said that is a small part of the movement. “For people who are constantly excluded by society (pretty much anyone who is not a white man), they deserve to indulge in some self-love because we’re always made to feel bad about ourselves in one way or another. Loving ourselves is an act of protest in that sense; we find ourselves beautiful despite society epitomizing the white able-bodied man and in turn break down that standard of beauty.”
Zofie, 17, California
Zofie told BuzzFeed News young women grow up “learning to hate our bodies and to always want to be ‘perfect’ and to try and reach a standard of beauty that is unattainable.”
“Posting selfies and appreciating our bodies and our looks is a way of loving our bodies. We’re not shallow, posting pictures in no way denotes our capabilities or our intelligence. Our society functions on the idea that women have low self-esteem (take a look in any tabloid magazine, the whole ‘lose weight/get thin/try this beauty secret/be the prettiest’ shtick) and so when you post selfies, it’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, I feel beautiful. I feel confident. I feel positive about myself.’”
Zofie was 15 when she first joined Twitter. Like many other girls her age, her main motivation for trying out the social media platform was to talk about her favorite boybands and chat with friends. But before long she was posting selfies and, over time as the number of people who followed her account grew, so did the engagement with her pictures. Some have been retweeted hundreds of times.
While teenagers sharing pictures of themselves online is nothing new, the response, particularly among young women, to sharing selfies online is a fascinating phenomenon.
“I can’t speak for all people but I know that I post selfies because they make me feel positive,” she told BuzzFeed News over Twitter DMs. “It’s a way of expressing myself, whether it’s through the makeup or clothing I’m wearing or the fact that I feel confident in the picture.
“Most people have insecurities and I am not exempt from that. I still struggle with self-esteem issues at times, and posting selfies can be a way of combating that. Not all selfies have to be body positive, self-esteem encouraging posts, but I find that when I post selfies it’s an empowering way for me to say ‘Hey, I am beautiful. I am cute. I am adorable and you can’t tell me that I’m not’ to myself especially. I think that I’m my greatest critic and when I can post these pictures, I feel like I’m standing up to my inner bully.”
Winona, 16, Washington
Winona told BuzzFeed News one of the things she loves about posting and sharing selfies is how it can be used to highlight the beauty of women of color.
“When I see a woman of color on my timeline I share their pictures, not only because they are beautiful and absolutely stunning. I do think we all need to support one another especially since we’re always picked on, insulted, disrespected, joked about etc. In my opinion, and I’m sure many others’, it’s very important we stay strong and hold each other up, and this also goes towards all women, not just WoC.”
Jite, 15, California
Jite agreed that being part of a supportive community of WoC was one of her favorite parts of the selfie movement.
“I love seeing all the appreciation and support that we’re all showing; for example #BlackOutDay is a day each month (or new season) for black people to share our pictures, and the whole thing just makes me so happy especially since there is a lack of representation for black people.”
“It doesn’t change the fact that there is a lack of representation, but it definitely makes us feel good when thousands of us are all coming together on a trending hashtag appreciating all of our beauty. I feel like my generation is heavily into body positivity and self-love, and this type of (usually) accepting community makes it easy for us to contribute without fear of being judged.”
Emily, 18, Florida
For Emily sharing selfies is about embracing her body and feeling positive about her size.
“I’ve been sharing a daily photo and stuff on Instagram since freshman year of high school because all my friends were doing it, but I started on Twitter regularly last year. I wasn’t confident in myself and I guess I wanted to feel proud of my appearance, and I used Twitter to validate my self-confidence and be like, ‘Here is my chubby body, deal with it’,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“I spent 17 years hating my body and my soft tummy and my thick thighs. But joining Twitter and seeing the body positive movement really changed that for me. I saw thousands of beautiful body types and decided to post my own and be proud of myself for once. And now I love my body.”
Emily now also shares photos of other women proudly to her 22,000-plus followers. “I think the first step to loving your body is accepting it and being proud by sharing it with others. I want to empower others and encourage them to love their body too.”
Emily said she doesn’t have time for people who dismiss the way young women act on social media as shallow or selfish.
“I’d say if loving myself is shallow then I am the shallowest person out there. There’s no shame in practicing self-love. And if it makes them that mad, then they sound like they’re harboring a lot of pent-up anger and insecurity … maybe they should try taking a selfie.”
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