It seems Zoella, YouTube make-up vlogger Zoe Sugg, can do no right. The release of her book, Girl Online, has got the mainstream catching up with her almost 7 million subscribers, but probably not in the way she would have hoped. First, she's a bad feminist (despite never describing herself as such) and a bad role model, because she subscribes to patriarchal beauty ideals and teaches girls to conform. Then she's got everyone from Katie Hopkins to author Matt Haig calling her vacuous for her interest in make up and bubbly persona. Now it's been revealed that she used a ghost-writer for her book - something that is common practice, especially in the 'celebrity' book market - and now she's letting her fans down, too.
It is hard to imagine a male YouTube star coming under quite as much scrutiny. Indeed, allegations abound that a number of popular vloggers on the site have perpetrated a host of assaults and rapes, but the public outcry is minimal. Sam Pepper's video series in which he groped unknowing women in the street generated some outrage, and even led to the unearthing of more serious allegations, but it has largely been swept under the carpet now. The flow of criticism of Zoella, meanwhile, is unstemmed.
The obsession society has with scrutinising young women in the public eye for their ability to be role models is nothing new, and is perpetuated even by women who consider themselves feminists. Wanting women to be empowered and free is surely at direct odds with wanting them to conform to a host of standards that make them 'appropriate' for the consumption of others, and expecting women to live their lives for other people - generally, other people's children - is remarkably reminiscent of the expectations placed on women for centuries before.
Zoella has never called herself a role model, and she has never called herself a feminist. Of course, her videos have generated an audience primarily of young women and girls, and she has taken it upon herself to occasionally espouse encouragement to worry less about appearance or 'stay safe'; it is not unreasonable to suggest that it was inevitable that some people would look up to her, but it is to suggest that this means she should pretend to be someone she is not, i.e someone who is not passionate about make up. She didn't create beauty standards and she is under as much pressure to comply with them as anyone else. Make up makes that experience of living under patriarchy a hell of a lot easier for a lot of women, and that is at least in part why vloggers like Zoella exist.
Make up does not have to be oppressive. It can be fun, and it can make women feel good; whether or not this should be the case is almost irrelevant when we all have to exist in a world where it is. Calling Zoe a hypocrite for spreading body positivity and self love messages whilst telling people how to put on make up is arguably contributing to the problem. It would be far healthier if girls felt that they can love themselves without make up and worry less about it whilst also trying out different aesthetics and techniques, than believing that they need it else they are ugly. Zoella certainly cannot be said to be promoting the latter.
She is also, by most people's standards, harmless. She doesn't drink alcohol or do drugs. She has spoken openly about her experiences with anxiety and depression - something that isn't being discussed in the mainstream and certainly not in a way geared towards teen girls. Of course, if she did drink alcohol and do drugs and didn't suffer from mental illness she still wouldn't be a bad role model, but in a world where people constantly berate women like Miley Cyrus or Rihanna for their sexy images and party lifestyles, it seems odd that Zoella has the opposite but is still torn down. It's almost as if women can't win, and especially young women who appeal to other young women, no matter what they do.
To a large extent, an interest in make up and beauty has a perception of being vacuous because it is something traditionally used and enjoyed by women. Those criticising Zoella for her passion are fuelling this, and shaming a lot of women for something that they are, if nothing else, told they should like and use. Combating this by treating it as though it is evil and worthless helps no one. For making a name and a brand for herself, standing for what she believes in and maintaining her passion in the face of people who believe that it is inferior and inane, Zoella is more of a role model for young women than anyone will ever give her credit for.