The Depressing Message Behind “Inspirational” Zoella

Zoella is an inspiration to millions of young girls and women, but is she really deserving of such a credit?

Zoella is an inspiration to millions of young girls and women, but is she really deserving of such a credit?

YouTube celebrity Zoe Sugg, who uploads videos under the internet name “Zoella”, is a very popular girl in this day and age. In fact she has over 6 million subscribers to her main YouTube channel, and over 260 million people have visited her page to look at her make-up tutorials or shopping hauls. She has her own line of beauty products; will soon be releasing a book; and she promotes the good values: such as learning to be comfortable in your own skin, and how to overcome anxiety.

The latter points are where I applaud Zoella. My girlfriend watches her videos almost every day (Zoella’s fan-base certainly isn’t confined to teenage girls, although a lot of them are) and every now and then I glance at the screen – usually when I am distracted by Alfie Deyes horrible voice – and I see her without make-up, or openly crying and opening herself up to fans. That’s actually alright, because at least it peels away the veneer that everything must always be fine and dandy just because you’re a famous middle class white girl with lots of money. This, and as well as her recent charity work, can all be considered “inspirational” to young girls, and sit fine with parents who watch their daughters growing up to these sort of positive messages.

I suppose.

But the real message I think is really depressing. This post was inspired by Chloe Hamilton of The Independent writing an article criticizing Zoella’s apparent contradictory stance on how people should watch her videos for the perfect make-up tutorial, but also be comfortable in their own skin and not worry about their appearance. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about that. I’m also not going to talk about Vicky -also writing from The Independent- Chandler’s defence of Zoella (although it reinforced my drive to write this post).

What I am going to talk about is, to me, the real problem with everything on the feminine side of the cultural sphere. It seems everything has to revolve around make-up, or cosmetics, or how they are supposed to look, or how they are empowered by the way they look. Or whatever. I recently read Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by the feminist Natasha Walter. And in it, she explained clearly what I had already found to be driving me mad, like a splinter in the back of the mind. The importance of how a woman must look, or how she must act is masqueraded in our society as a supposed liberalism for women. If women want to act they way they act, or cake themselves in make-up, or ensure they look to the best they can be at all times, it is because they are empowering themselves, and it is their choice. Except it isn’t. In Walter’s book, she carefully dissects the intrinsic male chauvinism that still dominates the lives of women. And this culture we live in, which sees magazines like Heat or whatever, which slag off celebrity women when they are having a bad day/have gained weight/have a bad dress on, is encouraged by a desire to look attractive in the eyes of men. (By the way, when Christina Aguilera got “fat”, she was still probably under the average dress size in the UK, and she was still very attractive.) I could write a dissertation on this subject, but I would advise you to just go and read Water’s book instead (if you are interested in reading about “biological determinism” and other ways sexism infiltrates our everyday lives).

And that is part of the issue that brings me back to Zoella. She doesn’t do much, really. What propelled her to her position today? Make-up tutorials? Shopping hauls? Really? Why should anybody think those the actions of an inspirational figure? As a society, we need to rattle the cages that women are increasingly being confined too. Women should be encouraged, and should aspire to other figures and roles in society, something other apart from cosmetics.One great example of an inspiring female, who -like Zoella- has risen to internet stardom through the power of social media, is Elise Andrew. She runs the I Fucking Love Science! Facebook and YouTube pages, which has over 18 million likes on the social media page. But for some reason she hasn’t the same support as Zoella. I don’t know, maybe it’s because she isn’t as good looking as Zoella or whatever, so she’s not as important somehow. How many women scientists can you name? What have been their contributions to the world? I bet you don’t know. But I bet you know about Kim Kardashian’s ever-changing ass shape (implants?) or Cheryl Cole’s new tattoo. And that is the problem with today, and that is the depressing message I get whenever I hear the screaming of Zoella’s young, impressionable fans.

Further reading:

Chloe Hamilton’s article: http://ind.pn/1FygDHM

Vicky Chandler’s article: http://ind.pn/1weNVJ7

Elise Andrew’s page: http://on.fb.me/1cW8Oj0

Natasha’s book (on Goodreads): http://bit.ly/1uLN1hD

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One response to “The Depressing Message Behind “Inspirational” Zoella

  1. I totaly agree with you ! Zoella is nice, but she seems to leave her life so safely, she is the perfect girl society want us to be, she doesn’t seem true to herself, not crazy, not different, and not inspiring to me… But she just applies what is expected by girls, and it is very difficult to not fit, you want people to like you and this is an easy way to get admiration. (I hope my comment make sense, I’m French and I’m not sûre to have spokan in a good english)

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