If I ever need to go up on stage and make an acceptance speech, I know the first person I’ll be thanking: it will be beauty blogger Zoella. I know I’m a little tardy to the party on this one, but I have just got into Zoella in a big way. She’s hilarious, she’s sassy, she’s really great at accents—and thanks to her hair tutorials, I look bangin’ today. But that’s not all I’m thankful to her for.
I looked up Zoella’s YouTube channel a few months ago out of intrigue, and next thing I knew it was dark outside and I’d been watching her for about five hours. Which is pretty impressive, considering I didn’t think fashion blogs interested me at all. I wear minimal make-up, my hair has had the same shapeless centre-parting style for about 20 years, and I pay zero attention to what brand of beauty product I buy. I actively dread going to the hairdresser just for that moment when they ask me what brand of shampoo I use, and I’m like “Is Lidl a brand?” and they judge me and it’s awful. So a YouTube channel full of “Beauty Hauls” and “Holiday Makeup Bags” and “What’s In My Handbag” videos (errmm…is there supposed to be more in there than train tickets and old receipts?) didn’t seem like it would be quite my thing.
So what is it about Zoe Sugg that so captivated me (and 9 million other subscribers)? Maybe it’s that she’s just so bubbly and sugary-sweet to watch that she makes you forget that anything bad has ever happened in the world. Spend a few hours watching Zoella curl her hair, and the tragedies of our crazy messed-up world seem a million miles away.
Maybe it’s how indisputably gorgeous she is. While I would never want to reduce anyone to their looks, I can’t deny that it’s fascinating to watch beautiful people go about their lives—and beautiful she certainly is.
Or maybe it’s because she’s so wonderfully, honestly real. Watching Zoella’s YouTube videos doesn’t feel like watching a glamorous celebrity deign to show you one aspect of her life; it feels like hanging out with your best friend. Which, I know, sounds like such a 13-year-old fangirl thing to say, but maybe I am a 13-year-old fangirl.
And it’s not just great when she’s being perky and excited to share her life with her fans. Zoe suffers from panic attacks, and she’s not afraid to post an honest and tearful video now and then to explain this. She’s an ambassador for the mental health charity Mind, and her frank discussions of the times when everything’s not OK make anxiety seem a whole lot less, well, anxiety-provoking.
In that way, Zoella is pretty much the epitome of what’s so great about today’s YouTube celebrities. Less than ten years ago, we watched Britney Spears (a star we’d previously seen only as a cheerleader for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed happiness) suffer a nervous breakdown—and we freaked out. Her breakdown was met with scorn, laughter, concern, and panic; it was met with everything, in fact, except for understanding. What’s so wonderful about public figures like Zoella is that they make the bad days seem so normal, so manageable. Zoe doesn’t have to hide or conquer her mental health problems to be successful—but she also doesn’t have to let them define her. And if she can do it, so can we.
So that’s why I want to say thanks to Zoella. It’s because she’s the one who inspired me to bare myself unashamedly to the internet, and finally start the blog I’ve been too afraid to write for years. It’s because she showed me that it’s OK to be me—at my best and my worst. And, of course, it’s because she taught me how to do a milkmaid braid.
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