As some of you know, and none of you care about, I am studying feminist disruptions of dominant male discourse in the YouTube community through narrative and storytelling in "get ready with me" videos.
Basically, I'm asserting that gee, isn't it great that marginalized women get a platform where they finally have a voice? Imagine that!
Unfortunately, throughout my research, I've stumbled upon popular media and scholarly journals alike that villainize and attack women who work in the beauty community. The more prominent the beauty guru, the more hate she receives--particularly among those with antiquated and narrow views about what feminism should look like.
Take Zoella, for instance. One of the most subscribed-to beauty gurus, Zoella has been the product of media attack ever since YouTube gained popularity (and articles about the topic would most certainly get clicks!). Generally speaking, these types of attacks on alternative media are not unexpected. It has become a comical pattern in which an older generation working within a certain medium see new, evolved media gaining traction and success, and that generation starts to get frantic and jealous. Cue the hate clickbait and desperate attempts to remain relevant.
Sure, sure, we get it. It's not so fun to be outshined by successful, independent forces who decided not to wait for the big corporate boss to tell them they could be stars. But what really irks me is that many of these mainstream articles cry anti-feminism and poor influence on young girls when attacking beauty gurus.
An Independent article titled "Of Course, Teenagers Need Role Models--But Not Like Beauty Vlogger Zoella" by Chloe Hamilton embodies this narrow-minded view. Besides having an egregiously clunky title, this article doesn't warrant the clicks, so I'll save you the trouble: basically, Hamilton posits that because Zoella works with makeup and beauty products, she must be telling young girls that their vanity is the only thing worth worrying about--surely she's maliciously capitalizing on insecurity and consumerist society instead of empowering young girls!
To which I say, most eloquently, BAH!
Hamilton starts off her argument stating that with such a large following, Zoella has the chance to be feminist-extraordinaire, but, “unfortunately, Zoe’s (sorry, Zoella sticks in my throat and on my keyboard) particular brand of sickly sweet girl power brings me out in hives."
This argument is troubling on two accounts. To start, yes, I agree with Hamilton's claim that Zoella has built a brand. I'm not trying to argue that Zoella speaks to her viewers in the exact same way in which she speaks to a friend (although the expectation that YouTubers must be their pure, authentic selves is problematic unto itself). She has absolutely crafted a persona and created a business around that version of herself. Zoella has turned a cute, fun character into a product. She is also immensely popular, relevant, and successful.
This does not have to be a problem.
The fact that Zoella has created, with great effort and outstanding success, a beauty empire adds a whole new level to young girls chirping "I want to be just like you!" What much of the media hears is "I want to look just like you!" But what they're missing is that these girls are looking up to an entrepreneur, a business-savvy young woman who is constantly working--even when it appears that she is playing--and who essentially created a new career (if you care to look up the timeline of Zoella, you will see that YouTube was not a job, much less a fast-track to fame when she started her channel).
When a young girl aspires to be CEO of a successful company, do you deem her shallow and poorly influenced by un-fit role models?
Not to say that every young girl who tries her hand at YouTube will end up rich and famous--yet there are important skills to be learned from the likes of Zoella: business deals, video production, time management, and composition, to name a few.
So why, exactly, does Hamilton frame capitalization of a skill in a negative light? There are flaws in the system, but the truth of the matter is that we live in a capitalist society, and we as members of this society exchange our skills for money.
Hamilton, for instance, capitalizes on her penchant for targeting successful business women.
Moving on to her next point, Hamilton's language clearly demonstrates distaste and disrespect for the popularized "girly girl." This argument is a classic "feminazi" move, as it encourages a belief that one cannot be empowered or empowering to be a soft, sweet, female. To be girly, as Hamilton sees it, is to be weak, and we can't have young girls seeing that.
This is eerily close to the argument that in order to be proper feminists, women must look and act strong--and masculine (here's some sweet sweet feminism-turned-anti-feminism). Otherwise, they cannot and will not be taken seriously.
But Hamilton doesn't stop here--oh no! We've got to throw in some either/or fallacies before we go.
The author goes on to tell us that there can't possibly be well-rounded women who enjoy both books and makeup, that intellect and beauty don't possibly go together! (I guess those scholars who participate in the beauty community just don't exist, huh?) The following argument has so many holes in it, I felt like I was playing logical fallacy bingo:
It’s maddening that a girl who has made it her business to tell teenagers how to put make up on, or get their hair just right, now feels she’s in a position to admonish them for 'fretting' about their appearance. Why, if she feels so strongly about the pandemic of insecurity raging through the tweenage generation, doesn’t she vlog about going to school without make-up, or encourage kids to spend their pocket money on books or days out with friends, rather than on the latest liquid eyeliner to hit Boots’ shelves?
Whew, boy. Where do I begin?
Let's start with the obvious irony that Zoella, has, in fact, written a book, thus contributing to the publishing industry. No, she is not the next Dickens, but this act is a start in getting young girls to read and to visit bookstores.
Are there arguments about YouTubers capitalizing on their success with an outpouring of books? Of course. I said it was a start.
If that's not enough, Zoella DOES encourage her viewers to read books and engage in other non-beauty-related activities. In her "monthly favorites" videos, she frequently adds movies and books that she has loved in addition to favorite beauty products.
The book recommendation starts at 17:28.
The argument that you can only be completely vapid and shallow or an intellect who rejects makeup is inherently flawed. Let's not forget the troubling view that an interest in makeup only stems from fear of looking ugly or not being good enough. A popular but misogynist view that makeup application is meant for appearing more attractive for men may be one reason that women wear makeup, but it's not the only reason. There is a certain joy in experimenting with makeup and various looks, as evidenced by the YouTube comments sections, my personal experience, and anecdotes from other YouTubers, friends, and family members.
To comment on Dodie's video, if you have an issue with YouTubers capitalizing on their beauty work, note that Dodie does not endorse any products here, and embodies the true joy of playing with makeup.
Lastly, Hamilton notes a paradox in which Zoella speaks against anxiety and then goes on to tell girl how to look better. I doubt this argument comes from malice; rather it comes from a rather misguided understanding about the nuances of anxiety, which often times have nothing to do with makeup or appearance.
Having been blessed with this condition, I have some ethos on the matter. Anxiety manifests itself in many ways, but I often find makeup to be a distraction from crippling anxiety that the worst case scenario (whatever that may be) has happened. Additionally, I take great comfort in a public figure speaking to the validity of an invisible illness.
But again, I guess we can't have someone who likes makeup AND confronts mental illness in an articulate, well-educated manner.
This isn't purely Hamilton's fault, however. This type of mindset about beauty gurus has been popularized in the media and extends to the scholarly as well. In a dissertation called "Beauty work: a Case Study of Digital Video Production and Postfeminist Practices on YouTube's Icon Network," Andrea Weare argues that beauty gurus advertise makeup as an act of self-expression, but that "few feel the freedom to put mascara on their cheeks, for example. As is typical of many female rituals, acts of beautification are rarely actually empowering. Beauty rituals are often aligned with conformity” (27).
To slide past the fact that this mascara example is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS, I will, as an entitled millennial, make this about me for a moment, and show you that time I put obscenely bright eyeshadow on my cheeks:
In all seriousness, however, what these authors are saying is that women in the beauty community do not express themselves or encourage self-expression in ways that are appropriate for their versions of feminism. In a paradoxical manner, the authors are arguing against limiting notions of femininity by arguing for limiting notions of feminism.
So yes, young girls do need role models. And they can absolutely be beauty vloggers like Zoella.