Photo: Ben Rayner for The New York Times

Born in 2001, Rowan Blanchard began acting at the age of five. She appeared in several television shows and movies, with her big break starring as Riley Matthews in Girl Meets World and a recurring role on The Goldbergs. Seemingly, Blanchard had everything a young girl could dream of and a life with promise of fame and success.

Yet not all was as it seemed. In 2014, Rowan revealed in an Instagram post that she struggles with depression, writing, “As I found myself, this year in particular, going through ups and downs with depression, I realized that instead of rejecting and ostracizing these teenage feelings (human feelings), I can learn to love the intensity of them and know that everything is momentary.” Two years later, Rowan also revealed that she identifies as queer.

Rowan’s admissions sparked her advocacy efforts. At age 13, she was a keynote speaker at the UN Women’s HeForShe conference. In 2017, she spoke at the Women’s March in Los Angeles, stating, “If women, if queer people, if people of color have survived this long in a world that refuses to represent them, that must amount to a force much greater than one man with nothing more to invest in but his ego.”

Throughout her teenage years, she utilized her social media platforms to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, intersectional feminism, and destigmatizing mental illness. These acts rocketed her to being the face of youth activism in the mid-2010s. 

Now nineteen, she reflected on her teenage years and advocacy with Elle magazine in early 2021, stating, 

“My life now is actually about how I’m dealing with all of these things I said I cared about when I was fifteen. I have a really strong community and I feel like I’m actually just trying to show up for them in real life rather than show up online, to make comments so that people think I’m not being passive.

We just have to move past this point where we translate everything online. I realized that I spent so much time on the internet answering to people. I think it’s really important for me now to practice it in my real life, to show up for your community, and to find out what access you have that other people in your community don’t. How can you help give them that access? What can you offer? Whether that’s housing or money, what can you do in real life that’s going to make a tangible change on someone? The thing about the internet and what I hated so much about online activism is that it—and I literally hate that word now—it makes these things seem so out of touch and far away. And really like, we can all start by helping our friends on a physical level. This has been drilled into our brains that if we’re not doing it online, then it’s not real or something. So it’s bridged a huge disconnect.”

Rowan’s social media activism may not be as pronounced now as some of our other girl activists, but her focus on shifting to real-life action makes her a continuing inspiration for girls of all ages.

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