If you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ve probably heard of Zoe Sugg, AKA Zoella. You might not watch her videos or read her blog, but you’ve probably at least heard (or read) her name somewhere. She’s kind of a Big Deal.
In case you haven’t heard of her, or you have but aren’t quite sure who she is and what she does, Zoe is a young British online personality. What started out as a beauty blog quickly evolved into a YouTube channel with over 11 million subscribers, a beauty and homeware range, and a book series. But not just any old book series – no, Zoella’s debut novel was the fastest selling debut novel of all time. Ever. Quite an achievement.
Since shooting to fame that reaches beyond the sphere of YouTube, Zoe has received quite a lot of criticism. As mainstream media’s face of YouTube, Zoe is regularly dragged into the media spotlight. If they’re not speculating on how much she earns, they’re condemning her for not having a ‘real’ job. Most recently, The Guardian blamed Zoe for the demise of literacy in young people.
Nevermind that Zoe’s books – although ghostwritten – have encouraged thousands of young girls to start reading. Nevermind that she runs her own YA book club with W. H. Smith, encouraging young girls to read even more books. Nevermind that she uses her platform to speak out about mental health issues and the pressure to wear makeup.
This is not the first article in the mainstream media to criticise Zoe. Back in 2014, the Independent ran a piece about why Zoe was the wrong kind of role model for young girls, because she chooses to use her voice to speak about her personal passions like makeup and beauty, rather than feminism and politics and other ‘important’ topics.
It’s rather ironic, really, that the same world that tells young women the only thing they should care about is beauty is so quick to criticise young women who are successful because they talk about beauty. It is as if the world gave women beauty because they never expected it to get them anywhere – and now that young women are creating business empires founded on beauty, they’re desperate to dismiss it as irrelevant and unnecessary and bad for society.
It’s almost as if the world hates women. It’s almost as if the world hates successful women in particular.
People who criticise Zoella and the like for talking about beauty forget that by forging their online careers as beauty and fashion bloggers and vloggers, they’re doing so much more than ‘beauty’. They’re running successful businesses – often single handedly, or with only a very small team. They are writing, creating, producing, scheduling, and reviewing content every week – something that traditional organisations hire entire teams to do. They’re running multiple social media accounts, doing their taxes (which is more than can be said for a lot of corporate organisations), attending events, writing books, appearing on TV, replying to emails – all while maintaining a thriving social life wherever possible.
In other words, these online stars are doing more in their 20s than most of us do in our entire lives.
But because most of these online stars are women – and because most of their audience is made up of women – the world dismisses them as vain and inane.
Of course, it would be nice is Zoella used her enormous platform to campaign for social justice 24/7. And she is most certainly not above criticism. Her secrecy over using a ghostwriter, for instance, should be remembered as an instance where she deceived her loyal audience. Her silence over Trump and the rise of fascism in the West isn’t something that should be overlooked.
But the problem isn’t with Zoella talking about lipstick. The problem is with the world that views lipstick and those who wear it as lesser. The problem is with the world that looks for any opportunity to tear down a successful woman.