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“It’s amazing what a hashtag can do”: meet the most inspiring women on Instagram

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Moya Crockett
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Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has become an essential part of our app repertoire. But it's not just a tool for sharing photos of pretty salads and big nights out. Like all forms of social media, it can be harnessed for good - to spread a message, create a support network, share art and make big things happen. 

In a new exhibition at London's Unit gallery, titled #MyStoryUK, Instagram has curated posts and videos from some of the UK's most inspirational Instagram users. We caught up with three of the kick-ass women featured to hear their stories. For a sneak preview of some of the other Insta-stars featured, scroll to the gallery at the bottom of the page. You'll want to follow them all...

Dina Torkia aka @dinatokio

“I’m into fashion, but I’m also a Muslim and I wear the scarf. I knew from my friends that were so many other Muslim girls like me, but in the wider world, people find it strange for some reason. Instagram was a way for me to connect with girls from all over the world who are into the same thing, and it turns out there’s way more of us than anyone ever thought.

“When I was younger I always wanted to pursue a career in fashion, but I thought: “I can’t. I wear the scarf, I won’t fit in.” Instagram has allowed me to follow that route without a traditional career path. I want to push other Muslim women to do whatever the hell they want. Forget stereotypes, forget what society thinks, just do what you want. If you wear the hijab people think you're oppressed, but the scarf isn’t supposed to stop us doing anything. It doesn’t limit Muslim women. The only thing that limits us is what people think.

“There are no limits to Instagram. I’ve met fellow bloggers from around the world; I met a fashion designer who I’d been stalking on Facebook, who then contacted me over Instagram and ended up flying me out to Indonesia where she works. And I get so many direct messages from girls all around the world who say they’ve been inspired by my page, because they were worried they'd lose their sense of style if they wore the scarf. They think they have to go out and get a whole new wardrobe, but you don’t. You just need a few scarves!”

Follow her: @dinatokio

Viviana Gomez-Morales aka @ViviGomez12

“I’d always wanted to skate. I remember being eight years old, begging my mum for a board. But I was too nervous because I didn’t know any other girls who skated, and I felt quite shy about going to the skate park by myself. Then last summer, I met a girl at the skate park, and we started skating together. Eventually, we started meeting other girls, and now there’s almost 20 of us in our crew, Nefarious. We post things on Instagram and Facebook so other girls are encouraged to join us.

“I shoot all our pictures and videos. I love it because it means I get to be creative with the girls. I’m like, “Do that again! Do this trick for me!” I always have my phone on me, and whenever I get a really good shot – which is pretty much every time I see the girls – I’m like, yep, this is going on Instagram.

“It’s amazing what a hashtag can lead to. A lot of the new girls that have joined first contacted us through Instagram, and we’ve become this little family. Some of us have been skating for a long time and some of us have just started, but we all share this passion, and we get really excited when other girls want to get involved. Even if we just see other girl skaters we get really hyped up, because it means the scene is growing, and it’s something that’s so fun to be a part of.

“It’s important to have these images coming out because the skate scene is quite heavily male-dominated, and girl skaters are usually overlooked. It wasn’t until I met one of the girls that I was like – this is it. This is life. It’s important to let the community know that we’re around, and we’re always at events, so if anyone wants to come they can definitely contact us and we’ll be there. When girls tell us that they really want to learn to skate but they're too nervous, we're like, “Dude!” We’ll be there to hold your hand, cheer you on, whatever you need.”

Follow her: @ViviGomez12

Zoë de Pass aka @dresslikeamum

“Dress Like A Mum started when I was on maternity leave with my second child. I worked in brand and digital strategy for luxury fashion and beauty brands, and I was getting a lot of comments like “You don’t dress like a mum”. I started doing some research into what a mum was supposed to look like, and everything I found was really negative. I decided that was wrong, and started this campaign to make dressing like a mum into something positive.

“As a mum, especially if you’re breastfeeding, you can fall into a trap of just wearing what’s easy. I totally love clothes, but I kind of forgot that straight after I had my first baby. I wanted to post cool, breastfeeding-friendly outfits, because when I was breastfeeding the first time I learned so much about what I could wear that I wish I’d known.

“I don’t plan my photos – I don’t have time. Once I have more childcare I might be a bit more organised, but I just take five minutes at the beginning of each day to snap a picture of what I’m wearing.

“Around the time I launched there were a lot of mums joining Instagram, so I tapped into this UK fashion mum market, and I’ve now got an amazing group of mum mates that I met on Instagram. It allows us to cut out the small talk, because we tap into each other’s lives through Instagram.

“I was really honoured to be asked to feature in the exhibition. I think what it does really nicely is highlight smaller, more unpredictable Instagram stories. These are real, friendly women doing their own thing and putting it out there, so it’s really cool.”

Follow her: @dresslikeamum

The best of the rest of #MyStoryUK

  • "Fighting the trichotillomania" by @BeckieJBrown

    Beckie Jane Brown has depression and trichotillomania, a condition that compels the sufferer to pull out their own hair. She uses Instagram "to show others that no matter what conditions or disorders we have, we can have normal lives and be happy".

    Follow her: @BeckieJBrown

  • "Sunshowers" by @munroebergdorf

    "Growing up, there weren't any aspirational trans women of colour in the media that I could relate to," says Munroe Bergdorf. "So hopefully through documenting my achievements and experiences, I can shower younger trans girls and boys that their gender isn't something that should stand in the way of what they want to accomplish in life."

    Follow her: @munroebergdorf

  • "Paper infinity" by @themilelongbookshelf

    Amber Kirk-Ford started a book blog at age 7. Now, she uses Instagram "to show how fun and brilliant books can be".

    Follow her: @themilelongbookshelf

  • "They cut, we bleed" by @sistersuncut

    Intersectional feminist group Sisters Uncut campaign against cuts to domestic violence services in the UK. "The further we can spread our message, the more we can build a movement and reach people who might not have heard about us otherwise," they say.

    Follow them: @sistersuncut

  • "Dreamy days" by @wahnails

    Sharmadean Reid, the force behind legendary London nail bar Wah Nails, promotes her salon's sassy, sparky vibe on Instagram. "Instagram helps me reach the 16-year-old girl in the small suburban town", she says.

    Follow her: @wahnails

  • "Katarina" by @buttonfruit

    Painter Gill Button's Instagram video of a gently flickering face was chosen to feature in the exhibition. "Instagram is the perfect environment to post my paintings and drawings," she says. "It's fantastic to get an instant reaction to new paintings I've been working on, and it spurs me on to keep creating."

    Follow her: @buttonfruit

  • "Remember the glaciers" by @glacier996girl

    Elizabeth Farrell's cool blue-toned Insta feed began as an art project. She uses striking visual imagery to raise awareness of climate change and environmental issues for the "iGeneration".

    Follow her: @glacier996girl

  • "Liquid gold" by @mre.soeur

    Single mother and small business owner Carrie Anne Roberts shares candid snaps that expose the struggles and triumphs of motherhood. 

    Follow her: @mre.soeur 

  • "Riding free" by @ladyvelo

    "Instagram has given me a platform to show diversity in cycling does exist," says Jools Walker. She aims to redefine the stereotypical image of cycling, and encourage other women to get on their bikes.

    Follow her: @ladyvelo

  • "Namin at Dirtquake" by @vc_london

    The uber-cool Gemma Harrison posts photos of her east London motorcycle collective VC London, and the new wave of women motorcyclists around the UK.

    Follow her: @vc_london

  • "The disadvantages of having such friendly sheep", by @therunningshepherdess

    Nicky Baker runs a sheep farm in Dorset, and uses Instagram to show how she tackles rural life like a boss.

    Follow her: @therunningshepherdess

  • "Mathematical models" by @mathsbiochem

    17-year-old Olivia Bradbury uses Instagram to capture changing attitudes towards teenage girls taking traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects at school.

    Follow her: @mathsbiochem

  • "Bedhead and bouquet" by @gandgorgeousflowers

    Rachel Siegfried's Instagram feed captures life on her flower farm in Oxfordshire. "I strive to show the changing seasons through the 'palette' of flowers and foliage that I grow," she says. 

    Follow her: @gandgorgeousflowers

  • "A sea of duvet cover" by @adwoaaboah

    Model Adwoa Aboah aims to empower young women by speaking frankly about her struggles with depression and sharing candid images on Instagram. "What really helped me through an incredibly traumatic time in my life was the women in my life," she says. 

    Follow her: @adwoaaboah

  • "Heartbroken, Jungle refugee camp, Calais" by @tilly2milly

    Artist Davorka Andjelig creates paper doll collages using magazines and newspapers, overlaying them over photos of places she visits. This image was created from a photo she took in the Jungle at Calais. 

    Follow her: @tilly2milly

Visit the #MyStoryUK exhibition at The Unit, 147-149 Wardour St, London, W1F 8WD, until 5pm on Friday 10 June.

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women's Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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