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‘Tube Girl’ on TikTok: Self-Empowering or Self-Absorbed?

A dive into whether the Tube Girl phenomenon is an expression of empowerment or undercover narcissism.

Screenshots of Tube Girl from her TikTok.
Credit: TikTok / @sabrinabahsoon

If you’ve ever sat on a London Tube, you’ll have an understanding of the unwritten ‘tube protocol’. Don’t cough too loudly. Don’t rummage through your bag. Don’t chew on anything that makes crunching noises. Don’t breathe too much. Preferably, don’t breathe at all. In fact, it’s best if you just shrink into a ball and disappear.

So when ‘Tube Girl’ Sabrina Bahsoon started posting videos of her one-woman shows on the Central Line, it definitely broke the social conventions of the London Underground. Tube Girl has undoubtedly challenged the expectations of public confidence – but as an online figurehead, can this type of empowering content truly translate into real life?

What Tube Girl represents

While most people on the tube are afraid to even make eye contact with the stranger across from them, Tube Girl unabashedly records herself lip-syncing and dancing. Her unapologetic confidence directly confronts prominent cultural fears – taking up space, being assertive and basically just being yourself. Sabrina Bahsoon not only defies London Tube etiquette – which can be broken by being just slightly less still than a statue – but raises the universal question of how people are expected to act in public.

Women, in particular, are still pressured to present themselves in a specific way publicly. With Tube Girl amassing over eighty million views on TikTok, it’s clear that her boundary-breaking behavior has enticed the public. The TikToker has single-handedly sparked a digital discourse regarding self-expression in the public eye.


So now im en route via tube. The man in the back getting a show fr 🤣 #tubegirl #tubegirleffect

♬ Prada – cassö & RAYE & D-Block Europe

The domino effect

Once Tube Girl became a social media sensation, Tube Girl doppelgängers began springing up across platforms. This is partly due to the success and popularity of the original Tube Girl, which aspiring influencers hoped to replicate. However, Tube Girl is also multiplying for a more heart-warming reason. Sabrina Bahsoon’s boldness in expressing herself has motivated other women to come out of their shells. Hundreds have taken to TikTok to share their own confidence-boosting experiences as Tube Girls.

In the span of a few weeks, Tube Girl has become celebrated across social media as an empowering icon. Although advocating for self-expression isn’t anything new, Tube Girl takes it to the next level. The Tube Girl phenomenon proves that you don’t have to be yourself quietly or in private – you can express yourself publicly and proudly, and that’s something worth celebrating.

The online self-improvement journey

As Tube Girl has become synonymous with confidence, the trend is very much linked to the overarching theme of self-care and self-improvement on social media. For years, trends such as the clean girl aesthetic and becoming an it girl have dominated the media. On TikTok, hashtags such as #SelfImprovement have twenty-five billion views.

On the surface, this self-improvement movement appears inspiring and constructive compared to the usual unrealistic media trends. At its core, however, every online movement has some level of inauthenticity. It’s impossible to replicate a genuine, unromanticized experience within the edited, clip-cutting world of social media. Even with self-help trends, there is always the possibility of unattainable goals and toxic standards.

A picture of post-it notes advocating for self-improvement.
Credit: Shutterstock / marekuliasz

Toxic positivity

With thousands of daily videos advocating for self-growth, there comes an immense social pressure to do better, be better and look better. If you’re not waking up at 5am every day to do pilates and make vegan milkshakes, you’re a social media failure. This toxic positivity means many people feel guilty about their own lives. If you wake up at 12 p.m. and scroll through videos of people on morning hikes and saving stray kittens all before 10 a.m., it’s bound to make you feel a little inadequate.

The oversaturation of self-confidence trends has a similar effect. Social media has become so obsessed with pushing for confidence that many people now feel ashamed of their anxieties. It’s pretty reasonable to think that dancing on a public train is out of your comfort zone – but social media will insist that this is a problem.

In reality, self-confidence trends perhaps cause more harm than good. According to the Independent, 41% of young girls feel depressed after using social media. 67% even said they felt ashamed of their appearance after seeing how women look online. These grim statistics indicate that despite the overwhelming self-confidence content across platforms, self-esteem in girls has hit rock bottom. Self-confidence trends don’t always motivate people to express themselves and try new things – for many, the effect is the exact opposite.

But what about Tube Girl?

In the face of this unfortunate reality, the actual success of Tube Girl is ambiguous. While some people worship the trend, others view it as an obnoxious display of narcissism. Users have called out the absurdity of determining self-esteem by whether you can lip-sync in public spaces, dismissing it as another self-absorbed trend that is exclusively for people with conventionally attractive features.

Comments from Twitter and Instagram criticising Tube Girl.

Tube Girl is innocent

Despite this backlash, it’s important to remember that the original Tube Girl isn’t to blame. Arguably, the Tube Girl trend is the first self-confidence trend to truly be focused on empowering individuals. Although many criticize Tube Girl as narcissistic, Sabrina Bahsoon’s motivation is entirely the opposite. By nonchalantly dancing on tubes, with the background commuters remaining mostly oblivious, Tube Girl shows that it’s perfectly okay to be yourself in public – no one cares.

With this in mind, it’s clear that Tube Girl is just trying to freshen up social media and spread positivity. As usual, the internet has twisted the roots of this trend. Although self-confidence trends certainly have their flaws, young women dancing on underground trains are pretty limited in their destructiveness.

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Written By

English Literature student at UCL.

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