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In Search of Selfie: Teenage girls struggle in a BDD technology age

By September 5, 2019October 22nd, 2021No Comments

Madeleine Grummet


In 2020 girledworld will launch a book by teenage girls, for teenage girls, called You Are Not Your Face. (See today’s story on girledworld and our Melbourne Writers Festival teenage forum on page 5 of The Australian by Stephen Lunn).

Truth be told, You Are Not Your Face kind of wrote itself.

We could see the rising pressure teenagers are facing in the digital age, and the overwhelming complexity of navigating life on and offline, so we simply tapped a seam to let them share their stories, and were totally blown away by the responses we received.

More than 8000+ 13-19 year old girls from India, Brazil, Pakistan, China, Australia, France, Germany, Korea and the USA contributed their incredible stories, life experiences and abundant wisdom to this girledworld global storytelling project, exploring the complex realities of life as a teenager in a technology-fuelled digital world.

This is a generation of pure digital natives.

They do not know life without the internet.

Their affinity with the technologies that have brought us to the edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution sets them apart from previous generations as they adapt to unprecedented change and come of age in a digitised world (according to futurist Gerd Leonhard humanity will face more change in the next 20 years than it has in the last 300).

Technology has not only shaped the way they communicate, live, learn and socialise, but has also created a new set of rules, beliefs, fears and social aspirations, both on and offline, as they cultivate perfectly edited digital identities that contrast starkly with the ordinary realities of their everyday lives at home and school.


social media teeangers


They know their carefully ­curated digital identity is far from ­reality but want to create the perfect selfie anyway.

They desire online connection but are wary of revealing their true selves to their peers on social media. They are always on, never off (87% of teenagers sleep with their mobile phones), and many report feeling pressure to post certain types of content (Pew Research Centre) on their multiple social feeds.

You Are Not Your Face captures the voices of a generation trying to work out who they are in a volatile hyper-connected world that keeps shifting around them, a world that sees young women picking up the tab for the planet, taking action on climate change, facing an ageing population problem (see Australian predictions here), increasing global debt, the birth of the fourth wave of feminism with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, a perpetuating global gender pay gap coupled with a changing future job market with high youth unemployment rates FYA The New Work Reality, plus a wide-scale youth disengagement with democracywhich is suffering a crisis of leadership, and still too few women in positions of power (females remain disproportionately underrepresented globally in the top tiers of business, academia, politics and finance. WEForum)

To a teenage girl, the world is indeed complicated.




With a lack of visible role models, to whom, then, are teenage girls looking to shape their idea of what it means to be female? It turns out mainly online influencers like the Kardashians… (see Giles Role Models Report 2003) whose daily lives play out on social channels and set the standards for beauty, behaviour and social norms.

girledworld’s You Are Not Your Face project, and research from leading universities, teenage focus groups, regional communities and our work with high schools, reveals that the rates of social isolation, self-harm, depression, sexting, cyber-bullying, anxiety (GAD), digital addiction, over-sexualisation and content overload being reported and experienced by teenage girls means they need even greater support to navigate the social media and digital-scape, to maintain well-being, find a platform for their problems, and connect, hear and share their stories to make better sense of themselves as their emerge into adulthood.




Rising rates of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) – a mental disorder characterised by obsessive worrying over a perceived or slight defect in appearance – sees increasing numbers of people undergoing cosmetic augmentation (in 2018 Australia clocked up 500,000 elective cosmetic procedures totalling $1 billion), and rising mental health issues amongst young people have been directly correlated with online activity and social media usage. BDD, classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, is surprisingly common, affecting one in every 50 people – and growing, as millennials are influenced by what they see online.

Additionally, an epidemic of anxiety about ‘normality’ (ABC) has fuelled an industry of augmentation where young people look obsessively through heavily filtered photos of influencers on Instagram, Snapchat and Weibo, compare them with photos of themselves, then ask surgeons to surgically augment them to replicate influencer looks (ABC).




There’s even a new disturbing mental-health phenomenon known in the industry as Snapchat dysmorphia – where young people request procedures to resemble their Snapchat photo-edited digital image – which is causing significant mental health (and financial issues) amongst teenagers, as selfie-led social media culture plays an increasingly pervasive role in shaping the relationships young women have with their appearance, and in turn their self-worth. As these images become the norm on social media, and in real life, the idea of what is attractive worldwide also changes.




Australia’s smartphone penetration level currently sits at 84% — the fourth largest market globally after Norway (91%), South Korea (89%), and the Netherlands (87%) (Deloitte).

It is estimated that one million Australian teens aged 14-17ABC (91%) have a mobile phone (Roy Morgan), and many are rarely offline (ABC).

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens, with research showing many teens are spending up to 1200 hours a year on social media (SBS) and 37% of young adults accessing social media within 15 minutes of waking up. The same percentage admitted they ‘disconnected from real time’ to instead trawl social media – i.e. they opted to jump on social media instead of enjoying reality.

The platform giants battling for ever-bigger slices of ‘The Attention Economy’ (Neilson) face increasing scrutiny about manipulative algorithms designed to fuel user social media addiction (Vice). But there is still no clear consensus or understanding among teenagers about the negative effects social media usage is having on their everyday lives, relationships, mental health and well-being, and there is a concerning level of naivety about responsible digital usage among the teenagers, despite them being submerged in the digital realm with all its access to unfiltered information.

What is clear is that many of today’s teenagers haven’t come to grips with the realities of their passive digital footprint, and just how much of their lives they have exposed which can never be erased.




You Are Not Your Face holds a mirror to our times – these are teenage girls telling it how it is to be a girl in the world right now.

And we need to listen.

Their words are inspirational, courageous, wise, challenging, heartbreaking and reveal the complex realities of the shifting currencies of social media, the confusion of navigating life and self on and offline, and the dark side of digital usage for young people across the planet.

See girledworld Instagram for recent #YouAreNotYourFace content and website here.

girledworld take You Are Not Your Face to the Melbourne Writers Festival Schools Program 2019 to explore life as a teen in a social media age.


girledworld Melbourne Writers Festival.jpeg


girledworld took You Are Not Your Face to the Melbourne Writers Festival 2019 Schools Program today. Cofounders of education technology startup girledworld and Authors of You Are Not Your Face Madeleine Grummet and Edwina Kolomanski facilitated an open forum and teenage panel discussion at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival Schools Program exploring the role of social media and selfie culture in teenage personal narrative and identity development. 180+ Victorian students and teachers attended.

girledworld – From University of Melbourne education technology startup to 30,000+ students and growing!




girledworld was launched through the University of Melbourne (Melbourne Business School – Master of Entrepreneurship) in 2016 when Cofounders Madeleine Grummet and Edwina Kolomanski undertook Masters research examining the problem of low STEM participation and high attrition rates of women in the current global workforce, and the role of entrepreneurship, STEM and innovation in the 21st Century knowledge economy.

Their research on the future skills gap in the Australian workforce revealed a key insight: current educational approaches to addressing knowledge, enterprise skills and gender deficits in Australia’s leadership, STEM, entrepreneurship and innovation domains needed to be accelerated for Australia’s economic future survival.

girledworld was the solution, and the education technology startup has to date engaged with 30,000+ students and 180+ Australian schools and universities, leading industries, Silicon Valley tech startups and outstanding female business mentors across the world to give female students the real-world industry knowledge, 21st Century enterprise skills and career mentors they need to help them thrive in the future of work – and step up to be the leaders of tomorrow.




girledworld’s mission is to close the gender gap, build workforce diversity, increase capacity and 21st Century skills in the next generation of women, and engage with governments, global technology companies and key education stakeholders to deliver high-outcome, industry-aligned learning and workplace mentorship to 1000’s of teenage girls so they are educated, skilled and equipped to navigate their future careers.

Our high-impact work has seen us rise to national prominence and scale to 100’s of schools, enabling access to a network of female role models, national work experience programs (in partnership with Virgin Australia, UniSuper, ABC), immersive workshops in STEM, leadership and exponential technology, and student-led Design Thinking innovation sprints with Microsoft, Atlassian, NSW Parliament, Women For Election Australia, Airbnb, Zoos Victoria and many others.

Our World of Work Summit series – University of Melbourne 2017 / RMIT 2018 / University of Sydney / Victorian State Government Regional Innovation Summits Geelong 2019 / Bendigo 2020, have enabled our total reach to industry, educators, parents and students to exceed 60,000, and in late 2019 we will scale our impact with the beta launch of a ground-breaking global careers education platform, bringing the new world of work and 21st Century micro-credentials to students, fuelling them for the future of work.

For more on girledworld visit website here, see recent media here and download company overview here.