The Positivity Index: joyful game-changers you need to follow

Jennifer Savin
Photo credit: Getty | Alice Cowling

From Cosmopolitan

We've teamed up with Instagram and charity Cybersmile to bring you the ultimate list of joyful game-changers. Expect your social media feed to be a better place after reading...

In a day and age that can feel, well, pretty damn gloomy, we believe there's also a huge amount to look forward to. That's why there's never been a better time to loudly shout about the things that do bring us joy. Let us introduce, the ultimate people striving to make social media – and the world – a better place.

These are the need-to-know names – from politics and beauty, to body positivity and sustainability – who are guaranteed brighten up your day, who challenge the status quo and who help us feel inspired to make a change for good. Here, they share lessons on balancing the digital world with real life and what it truly means to be happy…

Asma Elbadawi (@asmaelbadawi)

Occupation: Basketballer, Poet and Campaigner

There are countless strings to Asma’s bow, not least a successful campaign to overturn the rule that women cannot compete in professional basketball while wearing the hijab, and her spoken word poetry.

“At school, there were two types of girls: the sporty ones and those who wore make-up. I want to show the younger generation that there’s no one ideal of what an athletic woman looks like.” Asma also uses her platform to openly share other challenges she’s faced too, such as her recovery from an eating disorder. “I’m growing alongside my followers.”

Jesy Nelson (@jesynelson)

Occupation: Entertainer

Alongside making up a quarter of the world’s biggest girlband, Little Mix, Jesy also champions issues close to her heart, notably through her Instagram posts and an award-winning documentary, Odd One Out. The programme saw her speak candidly about body image and trolling, drawing upon her personal experiences of unfairly being branded the “ugly one” of the group. Now, she’s passionate about keeping her profile ‘real’ to guide others through their down days.

“I can’t lie, sometimes I’m guilty of posting a glamorous selfie but then I think ‘You’ve got to switch it up a bit and post stuff on there where you look a bit shit too’,” she says. Offline, Jesy is proud to be a listening ear to her friends and practices self-love. “A friend messaged me the other day, basically slating herself and I said, ‘Why do we think it’s okay to talk about ourselves in that way? It’s basically bullying yourself’.” Her advice? “I know it’s cringe and cheesy, but you have to look in the mirror and instead of picking yourself apart, say what you like about yourself instead.”

Tanya Compas (@tanyacompas)

Occupation: Youth Worker and Advocate

Not only does Tanya’s virtual world shine a spotlight on LGBTQ+ folk and those from minority backgrounds, but she also creates spaces for her online army to meet in real life too, with events such as Queer Black Christmas. For Tanya, social media is all about community, as it’s where she first found friends when exploring her identity as a queer person of colour.

“Look for club nights and events, as well as talking to people online. Use them as an olive branch to suggest meeting in person.” If you’re stuck on where to start when it comes to finding your own tribe, the award-winning youth worker advises sniffing out the bigger platforms related to what you’re interested in, then taking a look at who they’re following too. “Be visible, be unapologetic.”

Jaz O’Hara (@theworldwidetribe)

Occupation: Founder of The Worldwide Tribe

After her Facebook post, documenting the incredible human spirit and tough living conditions she’d seen while visiting The Jungle (a refugee camp in France) went viral in 2015, Jaz wanted to give others a voice. She created The Worldwide Tribe, a storytelling organisation, to do exactly that – with the aim of humanising migrants, uniting nations and raising awareness.

“I love following other uplifting Instagram accounts too, such as @DoSomethingForNothing, which showcases endless examples of local do-gooders, like barbers who cut homeless people’s hair for free,” says Jaz. “It’s empowering to be positive in the face of adversity.” She’s also taken her work offline and speaks at largescale events, including those with Amnesty, and hosts a podcast called – you've guessed it – The Worldwide Tribe.

Mikaela Loach (@mikaelaloach)

Occupation: Student and Climate Change Activist

Not only does spreading the word about environment issues get Mikaela, an Extinction Rebellion member, fired up, but she’s dedicated to making activism more inclusive. “My passion was born from frustration,” she explains. “To me positivity doesn’t mean having blind optimism, but rather investing your time in whatever brings you down and trying to make a difference.” For this eco warrior, who calls out the discrepancies in media reporting towards non-white activists, being part of a movement is the best way to feel better about the world. “Follow people online who aren’t like you, it’s where you’ll learn the most, by hearing others’ stories.”

Laurie Nunn (@laurienunn)

Occupation: Writer

The creator of Netflix’s Sex Education has certainly done more in the last few months to make us smile than anyone else we can think of. Famed for its super diverse cast and comedically relatable approach to sex and relationships (we only wish we could’ve learnt about consent, gender labels and the importance of boundaries in our own biology lessons), Laurie has created something truly magical.

"I find all writing cathartic in a way, as it usually comes from a personal place. But Sex Education has been particularly enlightening – it's made me learn so much about my own wants, needs and desires as a woman," she says. "Through researching the show, I learn new things about sex and relationships every day. I now understand for the first time how important it is that society tries to encourage more open, honest conversations about those topics, with people of all ages. Even though it’s an awkward subject matter, the more accurate information young people are given about how to ask for what they want and set clear boundaries in their sexual relationships, the healthier humans they'll be – that can only be a good thing."

Laurie has her head very much screwed on when it comes to social media too. “I try and follow organisations and people who use Instagram in a positive and educational way, but I also follow a lot of dog Instagram account. Dogs never fail to make me happy.” Wise words, if ever we heard them.

Clara Amfo (@claraamfo)

Occupation: Broadcaster and Presenter

Arguably the most smiley human in entertainment today, Clara’s enigmatic personality has more than earned her a place on The Positivity Index. She brings a warmth to social media by making sure all her posts are genuinely useful and informative. “I try to go beyond showing people what I’m wearing and also share insights into what I'm doing workwise,” she says. “I love getting glammed up , but there’s more to life than that.”

There’s also her hilarious "secret" second Instagram account (@whatsappmama), dedicated solely to WhatsApp screenshots of conversations with her mum – who remains thoroughly unimpressed by Clara's life in the public eye. “She’s the true star of the family,” she says.

On positivity in general, Clara views it as a mindset. "Sometimes you have to work for it, but to me it's about finding useful and progressive solutions in any situation. For example if you're off sick but are wishing you could be back at work or out with friends, don't get down about it – acknowledge that you're listening to your body and putting yourself first." Surrounding yourself with people who tell the truth and champion you is key too, she says. "I cheerlead them right back."

Nià Pettitt (@niathelight)

Occupation: Founder of Froday and CEO of Curl Bar

As a new salon owner (with a focus on encouraging women to embrace their natural curls) and inspiring beauty influencer, Nià has recently had to learn the importance of carving out a balance between life online and the busyness of the real world. “I’ve had to train my mind to learn that there’s productivity in stillness too,” she explains. “Otherwise I’d just burn out. Now, I make sure I take the time to put my phone on silent and be present, especially around family.” Having hobbies outside of creating a beautiful feed of female empowerment is key too, Nià says. Hers? “Cleaning. I find it clears my mind, as well as my physical space.”

Sophie Duker (@sophiedukebox)

Occupation: Stand-up Comic and Writer

Sophie’s on-the-nose observations about race, sexuality, mental health and general ‘wokeness’ are second to none – so it’s no surprise that she’s been hotly tipped as one to watch on the comedy circuit. As for social media, Sophie’s captions go beyond laughs: she uses her platforms to discuss coming out to her family onstage and give an insight into the hard graft it takes to succeed in the industry. “On Instagram, I follow less than 50 accounts and rotate when I get bored – I like social media being a treat,” she explains, when asked on how she keeps it a fresh and fulfilling experience. "I've engineered it to be a game you can check in on and complete, rather than an endless vortex of thirst traps."

Dr Anita Mitra (@gynaegeek)

Occupation: Doctor

Frustrated by the abundance of shaky wellness information clogging up the internet, Anita committed herself to being a true, clear and taboo-busting voice in women’s health. For her, breaking down the stigma surrounding things like smear tests, using the correct anatomical terms and making her thousands of followers aware of symptoms of gynaecological conditions, such as PCOS, is crucial. She advises keeping a list of your best qualities and proudest moments to reflect back on if you’re having a bad day. "Equally, if there's something in your life you want to change or achieve, make a solid plan about how you're going to do that. If that sounds like too big a task, break it down into smaller chunks to seem more manageable." Doctor’s orders.

Gemma and Maya Tutton (@OurStreetsNow)

Occupations: Campaigners

After first being catcalled in the street at only 11-years-old, Gemma and her older sister, Maya, teamed up to rally the government to re-define street harassment as an illegal offence. They’ve utilised social media to help spread their message, encourage signatures on their petition and share stories from other women, who’ve also been subjected to similar behaviour. “Gemma and I went to a march recently that had a placard reading: ‘There’s no better antidote to cynicism than activism’,” says Maya, on the meaning of positivity. “It’s become our 2020 anthem. Social media should break boundaries, not build bubbles, so don’t just follow people who live a life similar to your own – diversify your feed.”

Rose Gallagher (@rosegallagher)

Occupation: Make-Up Artist and Broadcaster

Famed for being one of the nicest people in the beauty industry, many of Rose’s followers see her as the go-to for advice, specifically on rosacea (a reddening skin condition which she openly discusses having on her platform). As for her tips for happiness, there’s one small, simple change she’s recently made that has had a huge impact. “I switched my iPhone wallpaper to read 'Say no unless you actually want to do it’,” she explains. “Prioritising myself, instead of trying to please everyone else, has meant that I can manage my time more effectively, have more energy, and, in turn, am a harder worker and better friend. Don’t say ‘maybe’ if you really mean ‘no’.”

Karen Hobbs (@karen_hobbs)

Occupation: Comedian and Writer

The perfect blend of hilarity with purpose, Karen regularly collaborates with cervical cancer charities, such as Eve Appeal, to share her own experience with the disease, alongside dishing out plenty of laughs. Expect candid shots of Mooncups, (genuinely) inspiring quotes and pithy takedowns on her feed. How does she stay chipper in the real world? "I take breaks from my phone and do things that require full use of both hands, such as watering my 137 plants or hoovering my cat. Everybody should own at least one cat." She also recommends not rushing to get ready in the morning, cooking yourself a fancy dinner and reading on your commute. Noted.

Amika George (@freeperiods)

Occupation: Founder of Free Periods

Having received global recognition for her bedroom-born campaign to end period poverty, Amika shows no signs of slowing down. “Free Periods has proven that social media is a crucial tool for spreading awareness,” she says. “If you feel angry about an issue, it’s a quick and easy way to do something tangible about it.” One of her favourite people to follow online is Indian actress Trisha Shetty, who Amika describes as being an exceptional role model due to her championing of women’s education. “It’s easy to get bogged down by life but having the perspective to look past the things that get you down is a strength. In 2020, people, teenagers included, are taking things into their own hands more than ever. It's inspiring.”

Dominic Evans (@domandink)

Occupation: Illustrator and Author

A literal ray of sunshine, ready to blast your feed with colourful messages of inclusivity, mental health and body positivity, Dominic’s account displaying his artwork is one of the happiest corners of Instagram. The official illustrator for RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and a hun culture aficionado, there’s nothing we don’t love about his contributions to social media. “I want to make people’s days better,” he explains. “I try to find positivity in the little things that give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, like seeing a painting that moves you or having a nice chat with a shop assistant, then passing it on. I’m a northerner, so I smile at people in the street!” His online presence is very much a virtual equivalent.

Sinéad Burke (@thesineadburke)

Occupation: Educator and Disability Activist

Sinéad’s work focusses on pushing for inclusivity in the worlds of fashion and design. Not only does she speak about disability (sharing her own experiences as a little person) and accessibility with those at the top tables, but she also does so on her podcast As Me With Sinéad. Past guests include Florence Welch and Victoria Beckham, no less. Her passion for educating also carries through in her social media posts too, which you can equally rely on for an extra large helping of sartorial chicness. Seriously, Sinéad's wardrobe is envy-inducing.

Chessie King (@ChessieKingg)

Occupation: Presenter and Body Confidence Champion

Dedicated to overthrowing unrealistic body ideals, Chessie celebrates all shapes, all sizes and shares her own journey of self-love. Her posts detail her previous life as a competitive bodybuilder alongside a newfound appreciation of wobbly bits, stretch marks and cellulite. These days, Chessie is more at home tearing down negativity, by uploading the funny moments life has to offer (e.g. splitting a wedding dress open with her fabulous derriere) and giving talks in schools.

“There’s so much magic in actually meeting people face to face – there’s only so much support you can give through a phone, a caption or by replying to a message,” she confirms. “Nothing beats a big old juicy squeeze in real life.” When it comes to trolls, Chessie also regularly denounces them on her channel, in favour of bigging up others. “You control your social media; it doesn’t control you. Curate your newsfeed to be whatever you want it to be – different things empower different people, so it’s about experimenting with what leaves you inspired and full of energy, rather than deflated."

Selina Barker and Vicki Pavitt (@loveprojectlove)

Occupations: Selina is a Life and Career Coach, Vicki is a Relationships Coach. Together they both Co-founded Project Love

From the podcast to uplifting journals, everything that Project Love stands for is centred on empowerment – it's the ultimate life-affirming space online (with real life events too) for single people everywhere. Founders, Selina and Vicki, are mindful about not getting too sucked into mindless scrolling though, choosing to use Instagram to cultivate positive connections and listen to the stories of others.

“Once I’ve had my fix, I've replaced scrolling without purpose with reading a book, calling a friend, gazing out of the window or going for a walk,” says Selina. “Life is much richer as a result and in turn, so is my experience of social media.” For Vicky, positivity is embedded in realism. “It’s not about seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses and being happy all of the time, but rather it's about approaching life from a place of optimism and gratitude,” she says. We can feel the love already.

Simone Powderly (@simonepowderly)

Occupation: Model and Founder of The Teen Experience

Come for the amazing hair, enviable outfits and fitness inspiration, stay for the life advice, bona fide wellness content and frank discussions on healing after trauma. Simone openly talks about her experiences of abuse growing up, as well as creating safe spaces in the real world for teenagers, through her Teen Experience workshops. “I try to be the girl I needed when I was younger, everything I do has a purpose," she says. Her rules for a gratifying Instagram feed are simple: “Follow someone who educates you, someone to make you laugh, an account that focuses on nature and someone iconic, like Cardi B.” Done, done, done and done.

Callie Thorpe (@calliethorpe)

Occupation: Travel Blogger and Body Positivity Advocate

Welsh wonder Callie is on a mission to make every body feel confident – her gorgeous feed is the perfect place to drop into for a healthy dose of self-love, alongside dreamy travel snaps and plus-size fashion. Equality and representation across all industries are her bread and butter, as well as regular topics up for discussion on her podcast, The Confidence Corner. "I try to post after an event has happened, rather than in the moment, to make sure I'm living in the moment," she explains. "Doing things for other people makes me happier too, I love nothing more than throwing a games night for my friends or surprising someone with flowers. Little acts of service for other people are part of my version of self care."

Jameela Jamil (@IWeigh)

Occupation: Actress, Activist and Founder of I Weigh

A self-described ‘feminist in progress’, Jameela crafted the platform and community, I Weigh, which explores societal issues ranging from mental health to climate change to the way that we speak to ourselves. Kicked off originally by an Instagram post designed to combat a viral image in which a group of reality stars were being praised for their weight, Jameela chimed in with her own variation of self-worth – focussing instead on her talents, best qualities and positive relationships. “I don’t follow anyone who makes me feel inadequate about my body, clothes or lifestyle. I don’t need that in my life,” she says. “There’s plenty more I should be focusing on – and I’m the same in my day to day too. I only surround myself with nourishing people who make me feel happy.”

Nadia Whittome (@nadiawhittomemp)

Occupation: Member of Parliament

At a mere 23-years-old, the MP for Nottingham East is shaking up politics in a big way. Not only is she the country’s youngest person in parliament, but she’s made a bold statement by putting her money where her mouth is – Nadia has pledged half of her salary to local charities. “Since I was elected, my social media activity is mainly political,” she explains. “So, I try to carve out spaces for myself on and offline. I have a private Instagram for photos of my life outside of politics, including my friends, nights out and my nails (which are always done by local artist @_dorta_).”

Becky Young (@antidietriotclub)

Occupation: Event Manager and Founder of the Anti-Diet Riot Club

With slogans such as “One way to be lighter is to give less fucks”, Becky’s mission is clear – she creates safe spaces both on and offline for her ‘rebel’ community of body and sex activists. "One tactic I use, when trying to work out whether or not to unfollow somebody, is to cover up the caption of their photo," she explains. "That way you can focus on how the image really makes you feel. If it's not good, it's time to hit the mute button or unfollow entirely." She's also a fan of the Insight Timer app, which offers free guided meditation sessions. "I want society to change, not for people to feel like they have to."

Kuchenga Shenje (@kuchenga)

Occupation: Writer and Journalist

Powerhouse transgender activist, Kuchenga knows more than most that the pen is mightier than the sword – she can write it all, from beautiful memoir pieces to short stories. Her captions read like poetry and she’s determined to keep Instagram as a happy, safe space. “I block so wantonly – I’m my own best friend, so I have to defend my psyche from anything that makes me feel even the least bit queasy,” she explains. As for getting that ever-elusive digital balance, Kuchenga advises spending more time in bookstores and libraries. “Look for ‘Redefining Realness’ by Janet Mock as a matter of urgency. It’s a book that saves lives and ensures that those who read it become determined to thrive.”

Nicole Crentsil (@blackgirlfest)

Occupation: Cultural Producer, Co-founder of Black Girl Fest and Founder BIG SIS

There’s basically nothing that Nicole doesn’t do – from assisting with cultural and educational programmes, to setting up her own encouraging organisations, Black Girl Fest (a centrepoint for black womxn and girls) and BIG SIS, a platform for creatives. "I want every day to feel like International Women's Day," she says. "Instagram is full of great inspirational quotes, but it's important to meet people in person who embody them too. Are you actually living, laughing and loving enough? Quotes mean little if they're not actionable."

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