Deconstructing The Love Affair With Zoella
As an Anglophile, I’m shocked it’s taken me so long to discover the beautiful world of Zoella, but rest assured, I am making up for lost time. With two YouTube channels full of a plethora of videos and numerous guest appearances on her friends’ channels, a newly-minted Zoella fan has hours of content to glut their craving for the upbeat pixie’s unique brand of lifestyle vlog.
With over eleven million YouTube subscribers, it’s hard to imagine that anyone isn’t watching Zoella’s every move. And yet, there is a backlash against the young star — as much as one can object to another human’s existence. Those who find her cloying and insincere may easily point to the fact that zoe Sugg seems to enjoy an arrested adolescence of baking cupcakes, watching Disney movies, cuddling her puppy and shopping for new clothes. Forty-minute videos spanning days at a time that invariably end in a duvet-swaddled rant about positivity doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you’d expect to find yourself hooked on watching, but it’s clear that I’m not alone in my adoration for Zoella. But why?
What is the charm of just watching someone else live her life, curated for the camera? Well, maybe that’s a large part of it: Zoella has the privilege to live her life in a way that many of us don’t. Escapism, pure and simple? Maybe not so simple. If you or I have the day off, we might spend it at home watching Netflix, grocery shopping, or doing laundry. Zoe’s days off feature trips, events, and hangout sessions with her friends. What’s most intriguing to me is watching the kind of games Zoe and Alfie and their crew amuse themselves with. Sitting around a cozy room with a fireplace, they might bring out a board game or start up a word game like a group of Jane Austen characters. Zoella may be a girl online, but in reality, she leads a much less “plugged in” existence than most of us do (scrolling our Instagram feeds while watching TV with our friends). When was the last time you started up playing a logic game? Or built a fort out of pillows and blankets? Or baked with a friend?
While Zoella’s main channel is certainly a sensation, my favorite videos come from her second channel, MoreZoella. On this channel, things are less polished and curated, and she frequently vlogs without any makeup on, which shocked me to the core. Zoe’s skin is, to put it bluntly, NOT flawless, but she does not attempt to conceal it in all of her videos. In fact, she frequently draws attention to her “spots,” then shrugs them off. If a role model like Zoella had existed for me as a teenager, I might not be in therapy right now, quite honestly.
My own skin struggles scarred me for more than a decade of my life, leaving me devastated with low self-esteem. Zoe defies the expectations that only girls with perfect skin are worthy of being called “pretty.” Her nonchalant acceptance of her pimples and zits is jarring to someone who has been spoon-fed self loathing for her entire life. I fully believe that watching Zoe vlog without makeup has done more to undo the decades of self-hate than my numerous trips to the therapists’ chair. It’s one thing to tell yourself that your skin doesn’t make you any less worthy, it’s another thing to see someone living that truth. Having role models to look up to is so important, and I’m unashamed to admit that makeupless Zoe is mine.
Eight years ago, I discovered the world of blogging and fell in love. Then came the advent of “blogger clichés” and BRANDS, which I blame in different combinations for killing the genre of blogging. Today, blogging is a lost art, taken over by a select few almost identical “big brand blogs” whose content is predictably same and safe. If you disagree with that statement, ask yourself to count how many of the “Big Blogs” you follow have done Halloween costume tutorials for Eleven from Stranger Things. Yep, just as I thought. All the same. The bloggers who started the wave, like Nat the Fat Rat and Dooce, have all but disappeared. Zoella’s success on YouTube flies almost in the face of the brand-ridden landscape (brandscape?) that is the current state of blogging, hearkening back to the era where charisma, vulnerability, and an Internet connection were all you needed to become a STAR. Yes, I’m not ignorant to the fact that she takes advantage of brands and sponsorships, that’s how to make a career out of blogging. But unlike many bloggers, whose personal blogs have slowly transformed into paid advertising “sponsored content only” blogs, Zoella doesn’t make it ALL ABOUT THE SPONSORS. Her second channel is reminiscent of the blogs I used to love, personal diaries of everyday people. I really wish more bloggers, vloggers, and content creators would have the courage of Zoella to bare their souls for us. When I first found blogs (bringing it back), I was amazed at the transformative power of voyeurism to help us understand our fellow human beings. “Brand bloggers” get this all wrong: people skip past commercial breaks to get to the story. Nobody cares about your products, we want to get to know YOU. No wonder the Brands swooped in to exploit blogs’ amazing ability to connect with viewers on an intimate level and exploit it for cheap advertising.
“Alfie’s doing a bit of dishes,” Zoella chirps out the video screen. Other times, she ranks her favourite Christmas candy in order. Sometimes, we get a peek into her tea cupboard before getting distracted by her dog, Nala. “Oh, you’re so cute!” she squeaks, as the pug tilts her head. Zoella’s effortless ability to entertain might have made her a success as a talk show host, in an older era. Or it might have led her nowhere. Luckily for Zoella, the YouTube generation has an outlet and a market for their skills as entertainers that allows them to eke out a living simply being young, fun, and outgoing. Don’t hate the player, therefore. Hate the game. Personally, I admire Zoe for her candidness, her editing skills, and for the fact that she overcomes her anxiety to bring millions of viewers into her life where we can feel like we’ve got a friend in Zoe. I’ll give that a thumbs up.
all images via @Zoella on Instagram