At 14, Rowan Blanchard is a Disney kid with a conscience.

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Ivory silk burlap and hemp jacket by DELPOZO, blue appliquéd denim jeans by MSGM and white acrylic sunglasses by UNIF

It’s not often you feel like you’re getting schooled in life lessons by someone who’s barely entered adolescence, but Rowan Blanchard is no ordinary teenager. Star of the Disney series Girl Meets World since 2014, these days Blanchard is also a writer, political activist and role model to some 3.5 million Instagram followers. At 14 — an age most of us were drinking cheap booze out the bottle in a park — Blanchard is busy reading the work of feminists like Gloria Steinem and Roxanne Gay, and articulately speaking out about gender equality everywhere from Twitter to the UN. The rest of the time, she assures me, she can be found dancing to Beyoncé in her bedroom. Song choices: ‘‘Flawless” for when she “needs to get in an egocentric mind set”, “Haunted” when she’s feeling “dramatic and intense”.

It’s easy to see how the LA-raised teenager has built such a huge legion of young, adoring fans; she’s honest, she’s personable, and she bravely engages with issues that matter. Following in the footsteps of other former Disney Channel stars Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus, she has become a much-needed advocate for LGBTQ rights, and has recently tweeted that she identifies as queer herself. Back in December, she wrote a feminist essay on Rookie.com, run by her friend Tavi Gevinson, who Blanchard describes as “really delightful person and completely non-judgemental”. Titled “Sorry Not Sorry”, the essay charts Blanchard’s tendency to be over-apologetic — a bad habit that she sees as symptomatic of being female. “Adolescence, specifically girl adolescence, is confusing,” she writes. “I have treated, specifically, male feelings and ego as superior to and more fragile than my own.”

Over the phone from London to west LA, I ask Rowan why she decided to write about being Sorry Not Sorry.“I think I felt a need to write that piece because I was sick of apologising for things that I really shouldn’t be sorry for,” she says, with all the exasperation of someone in their 30s. “I see it now with my young sister and it scares me because I know at that age, when I was 12, I would literally spend 45 minutes putting on a whole face of make-up, when I really didn’t want to, but because I genuinely felt that if somebody saw me with my dark eye circles or a blackhead, that I’d risk offending them. You are supposed to say ‘I’m sorry’ for things that you’re not sorry for, especially to men. When I wrote the piece for Rookie it was kind of me trying to get other girls to start accepting themselves, but it was about me trying to get myself to stop apologising, too.”

Needless to say, the essay went viral. Whether it was Blanchard’s admission that, “What seems like the total end of the world, while valid, is not (usually) the end of the world in a week” – or her “know that you are enough for yourself” mantra – something in her words resonated with girls everywhere. Blanchard uses social media to put out similarly empowering messages; see Instagram for pics of her notepad, scrawled with things like “go and make things you’ve dreamed about” and “who cares what middle-aged men think”, bookended by cute selfies, naturally. In October, she even teamed up with Instagram for #MyStory: a campaign that encouraged young girls to discuss their personal experiences. Also involved were photographer Petra Collins, who shot Blanchard for Wonderland and artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose work tackles street harassment.

“I think social media is such a tool for people in my age group and such a tool for girls particularly. My mum started using Instagram and Twitter for me when I was like nine and, like, I had followers but I didn’t really know anything. I only started using Instagram and Twitter myself when I turned 12. I feel like that’s where I started finding things that affected me, particularly politics. I learned through social media that we often talk about America like it’s a totally equal place, but that’s not always the case. You think certain things happen in third-world countries or places that are really far away from where you live, but through social media I realised that things are happening right in front of me.”

Blanchard does confess that, although it’s a great place to educate yourself, having Instagram and Twitter accounts from such a young age can have its challenges, like — for example — the unfathomable pressure of having 3.5 million followers. “The thing that’s tough about it is that you’re subject to everybody else’s opinions when you didn’t necessarily ask for that,” she says, adding that this is something she feels happens to girls specifically.“The downside to social media is it’s another place for girls to be made fun of and another way for girls to be degraded; the upside is that it’s also a way for girls — especially girls of colour, for example — to speak out and to take back some control.”

I ask if there’s a time that Blanchard’s felt she’s come under abuse online and she doesn’t have to think for very long to come up with an example. In a series of tweets posted in January, Blanchard wrote: “In my life — only ever liked boys. However I personally don’t wanna label myself as straight, gay or whateva so I am not gonna give myself labels to stick with…” She followed up with: “Open to liking any gender in future is why I identify as queer.” The backlash against this admission surprised her — some responses were borderline homophobic, says Blanchard, other comments plain false. “I’m okay with it now, but I still realise that I was allowing people to comment on something that’s very personal.The first day I tweeted about it, it was definitely scary to see people commenting about things that literally have nothing to do with them.”

Fame can “open up a can of worms”, she says. “It allows people to critique me, to take ownership of my body, of my face, of my features. I have to stop reading comments because there’s a lot of good ones but then when you see one bad one like, ‘Oh you look ugly’, that’s what’s going to stick with you. I try to only respond to people when it’s something positive, which is difficult because a part of me really wants to call people out when they do things that are mean. But I’m trying, I guess, to restructure Instagram and Twitter to a place where, yes — you can be subject to other people’s opinions — but you can also think,‘I’m gonna use this word or image again, like a protest,’ because if you’re just continuing to do what you’re doing then people will start to realise that you’re not doing it for them.”

Talking to Blanchard, what quickly becomes clear is that her life online is inseparable from her life offline, and she agrees that growing up with these platforms, her generation doesn’t know any different. That said, it’s not the be-all and end-all. “I see that a lot of girls will thank me and be like: ‘I wanna change the world, but I don’t have a platform…’ I think if there was one thing that I want, it’s less self-blame among girls for not being able to ‘write a show about it’ or ‘write a movie about it’ or ‘write an essay about it’. When you’re a girl all these things are against you,so just existing is a form of protest. You don’t have to do more than that; all the other stuff is extra.”

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Multi-coloured cotton chroma dress by UNIF

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White applique organza tank dress by COACH and pink cotton t-shirt by MSGM

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Pink organza dress by CHANEL, silver jewelled tiara STYLIST’S OWN

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Pink faux fur coat by MSGM and silver iridescent patent calfskin sandals by CHANEL

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White applique organza tank dress by COACH and pink cotton t-shirt by MSGM

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Ivory silk burlap and hemp jacket by DELPOZO

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Lavender and gunmetal floral sleeveless dress with black veil, silver and hematite stone hair clip, silver and hematite stone four piece cuff set and silver and hematite stone four piece ring set all by RODARTE

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Multi-coloured cotton chroma dress by UNIF

Photography: Petra Collins

Fashion: Chris Horan

Hair: Laurie Heaps using REDKEN

Makeup: Amy Strozzi using NARS COSMETICS at TMG-LA.com

Nails: Kimmie Kyees using ORLY for celestineagency.com

Fashion Assistant: Jessica Nicols

Hair Assistant: Anna Maria Orzano

Words: Amelia Abraham


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