Jess McPherson

Panel 1D: Digital Media Practices
Session 1 – July 1, 11:00 – 13:00

Girl Swarm: Performing Post-Internet Female Identity

This performance research explores an amorphous group of female-identifying internet users who are active on social media platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram. The name of this group, for the purpose of this paper is the girl swarm. The girl swarm use hyperfeminine and abject performativity that is often antagonistic to patriarchal norms. The content and aesthetics they create are pursued by capital in the form of commodity feminism whilst simultaneously the swarm are often deemed narcissistic and are frequently censored. In this paper I investigate selfie culture and how it is viewed in a neo-capitalist and patriarchal system. I explore why the swarm’s version of selfie culture is so popular with other young women online and frequently deleted as inappropriate, or abject on social media platforms.

This research has taken the girl swarm’s life online and investigated it through a performance practice. There have been excellent performances and academic studies that focus on the pressures and anxieties that social media and selfie culture place on young girls (Darling, Gram and Ulman However this research seeks to address online performativity and identity constructs that subverts limiting and patriarchal notions of young women.

This paper explores my practice-based research and discusses a performance that was made for a traditional theatre space and merges choreographic and live art practices. I investigate strategies I used to transpose the digital aesthetics and online actions of the swarm into a traditional theatre space. I have asked can theatre practice be used to investigate, reinforce or disrupt understanding of these new aesthetics and online performativity? By exploring the swarm in front of a live audience I was able to understand some societal prejudices towards young women and ask an audience to question these prejudices in order to forward a feminist agenda.


Jess MacPherson is a final year PhD candidate at Bath Spa University. She is a dance artist whose work blurs the edges of dance, theatre and live art. Her current research is on hyperfeminine and abject bodily constructions on social media in relation to her current performance project ‘The Girl Swarm’ ( Her main areas of research concern constructions of the body and the body in performance. With particular focus on the abject, female, performing body.