'We want better': Championing women and fighting the dreaded Instagram algorithm with Lancashire's Northern Girls' Club
It was during the third lockdown that Lauren Higgins noticed something was wrong.
"I'd just had my second daughter and the Instagram algorithm bombarded me with images of perfect Baywatch women and their tiny new-borns," says Lauren, 31. "I've never looked like that in my entire life and I just thought 'I've had enough'."
Tired of being bombarded by social media's never-ending stream of unrealistic physical, economic, and emotional standards and increasingly alarmed by the impact such fabricated norms have on young people, Lauren started Northern Girls' Club with her cousin Sasha Phillips.
They pledged instead to share real-life local examples of female success stories. Because, as teachers, Lauren and Sasha have seen the impact social media’s poisonous filter-perfect standards can have on self-esteem and mental health.
Devoted instead to celebrating inspirational female role models, Northern Girls' Club is re-quantifying success as personal fulfilment as opposed to simply a huge house, a shiny new car, and a slim waist.
"I'm just trying to offer a balanced view on reality instead of just those little squares of everybody's best bits because, when that's all you see, you start to question your own life," says Lauren. "That's where the motivation came from: I want better for our younger women as a mother to two daughters.
"I want to be really clear: I'm not saying everybody in the North has low aspirations, but I've seen the impact low aspirations can have in Year 7s, in 16-year-olds who leave school without a clue as to what to do next, and I've seen it in myself," she adds. "That's why we need visible real-life success stories and to celebrate Northern talent to redefine the notion of success."
As opposed to subliminally encouraging young women to strive for a perfection which doesn't exist, Northern Girls' Club is instead showcasing real local champions. From a 96-year-old great-grandmother who lived through the war to a female referee, a building site manager, and an aspiring pilot, the 'clubhouse' wants women to aim for more substantial goals.
"Younger people are bombarded with perfection on social media and it's all just rubbish," says Lauren. "It worries me because, if you combine a lack of aspirations with artificial perfection, it could lead to mental health issues. But I think things are changing: people want more reality and we get some really empowering messages saying how motivating and refreshing the page is.
"We're also giving northern women a voice," Lauren adds. "We're portrayed negatively in the media and have to battle prejudice and stereotypes but, fundamentally, you can't be what you can't see. I want us to be seen and valued for keeping things real. Because that's what we do: we graft, we have a laugh, we have a good time, we get things wrong, and we get by."
With people spending increasing amounts of time on social media as a result of the pandemic-imposed lockdowns, Northern Girls' Club is a refreshing antidote to the pretence of polished flawlessness which dominates online spaces. They celebrate women for who they are, what they do, and for their mistakes, offering a better reflection of the 'ups-and-downs' reality of life.
"There's not just one form of success, it looks different to everybody," explains Lauren. "NGC has really brought people together because it's a conduit for them to tell their stories, to showcase their hard work and talent. I'm passionate and proud, but I also have a massive case of imposter syndrome, which just makes giving other women a platform more vital.
"I'm so excited to see where it goes," she says. "Because the women you walk past every day have voices."