Merit and The Power of A Brand (#Blogmas: Day 8)

In my last post, I talked about the darker side of Youtube, which was a post triggered by a tumblr user's critique on the book Girl Online, written by Zoe Sugg. (a.ka. Zoella on Youtube).
Zoella is a self-confessed beauty and fashion junkie. She became known through her style and beauty blog, and her Youtube channel where she uploads videos of her favorite beauty products, how-to tutorials on how to put on your make up and style your hair. As of this writing, she has 6.6 million subscribers, which is a lot of people.
Becoming Youtube famous has opened up a myriad of opportunities for this young and talented 24-year-old. She's been featured in Vogue magazine, launched her own beauty line and even got invited to sing with Band-Aid 30 along with some other Youtubers, Joe Sugg and Alfie Deyes.
Another venture that she has decided to pursue is writing and having been approached by Penguin for a two-book deal (a big thing, I assure you), who wouldn't want to give it a try?
I was honestly looking forward to picking up Girl Online. Zoe may have no experience with writing her own story, but I figured that she has excellent taste and is sensible and aware enough about what makes good fictional writing to ensure that her novel turned out well. She posted a sample of Girl Online, Chapter 1, onto her Facebook page, and this is the sample that the tumblr user critiqued. And I have to say I am a bit underwhelmed.
Maybe it's because I recently read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and I figured Girl Online would be written in that same vein. The main character, Penelope, is pretty much an online brainchild as she runs her own blog, much like Zoe does and I hoped that by riffing off her own experiences, Zoe's story would offer some insight into what life online in today's day and age is actually like.
As far as that tumblr user's critique goes, she did make some valid points about the way Girl Online is written. The language used is fairly simple, nothing too difficult about the vocab. It can be a bit bland then for those who were looking for a more literary style to writing. The characters seem a bit one dimensional, but maybe that's supposed to be how they look, at least in the beginning. I will say that the style it's written is does sort of reflect Zoe. When I read it, I could hear Zoe's voice in my head, and that made the whole book sound like someone telling their best friend a story.
It's not exactly my style, but I don't know. I just might pick up the book and give it a fair go, before commenting further, but honestly right now I am just not interested.
Recently though, there has been some controversy surrounding the book (welcome to the dark side, mmhmm). It has been confirmed by both Penguin and Zoe herself that Girl Online was ghost written.
Ghostwriting is basically the act of a ghost writer, someone who is sort of like a freelance writer, writing stuff for other people, but the other person that they work for will be the one who is officially credited. Ghost writing is not new to me. In fact, many celebrities, politicians and public figures who publish autobiographies or the like, hire ghostwriters to help them out, mostly because they have little experience in writing and have no time to actually sit down and write.
I would be fine with the fact that Girl Online was ghost written, if only it wasn't the fact that it was marketed in a way that made it seem like Zoe had worked on it on her own. And much like the tumblr user mentioned above, I felt a sense of annoyance over the fact that it seemed like the name Zoe Sugg was being used to market a poorly-written book, simply because Zoe is such an adored and renowned name, guaranteeing killer sales from her legion of loyal subscribers/followers.
It would not be difficult for her and Penguin to clarify this from the beginning and hearing Zoe writing and saying things like "My dream has been to write a book, and I can't believe it's come true" I feel slightly offended by this, being an aspiring writer myself. I have never heard Zoe mention any interest in writing fictional stories until this book deal, which popped out of nowhere, and suddenly she is claiming that she has wanted to be a novelist for a long time.
Now, I personally have nothing against Zoe Sugg. She is a beautiful, inspiring and dedicated young woman who is doing a great job, doing her thing and capitalizing on her talents. If I am pissed off at anything, it's the publishing industry, which suddenly looks like a shoddy money-making machine. If a publishing house is going to sign a book deal with someone, I expect it to be because they believe the person can actually make a quality book, not just because having that person's name on it will help with sales.
There was this article that ran on about this and this is a snippet from it:
Penguin Random House, the publisher behind Girl Online, agreed to sign Zoella after its CEO Tom Weldon was told by his 13-year-old goddaughter that the book would be ‘a huge best-seller’.
The problem with this sentence is that it makes it seem like they signed Zoella because it guaranteed them to make a lot of money, just because it is Zoe, and not because they thought she would for sure write a good book.
As a writer, I would like to believe that the sales and success of anything I publish out there would be because, after spilling ink and blood onto my novel and spending hours and hours, writing and rewriting every single word with my own hands, my work gets recognized based on literary merit and people want to buy it because its a good book, not just because it has my name on it, so they assume it's a good book.
And ghost written or otherwise, it's starting to seem like Girl Online isn't the best book even if it is targeted for a younger audience. The first chapter alone made me think that the tone of the book would not have much depth to it, and its references to thinks like beauty (chapter 1 has a part where the main character Penelope, tries to take a picture of another character, Megan and Megan makes it a point to insist that Penelope not a take a photo of her spot (blemish) on her face. A spot. Singular. Just idk.... really?) makes me feel uneasy.
Which brings me to part 2 of this post. As previously mentioned, Zoella is a beauty guru and a pretty fantastic one at that, but I can't help but feel that the whole beauty industry itself is.... I can't even find a word to describe it, because my feelings are just so mixed about it.
I do get the appeal of girls like Zoe. Fashion and beauty is fun and it's a great way to be creative and express your own style. It's interesting and fairly simple to learn how to do when you need a hobby and are sitting at home doing nothing much. And putting on makeup is in a way empowering, because (and i don't how to express this properly without making it sound a bit problematic) by putting on our best face, we are affirming to ourselves that we can be beautiful and that we are beautiful and when you look good, you can't help but feel good and feel confident and empowered.
But you don't need to rely on makeup to make you feel that way. And I guess being obsessed with beauty and fashion is only unhealthy, when you depend on it to make you feel good about yourself, because then you are denying yourself the chance to love yourself for who are and how you look naturally, and having to hide behind tons of make up would only be detrimental to your self-esteem and warps the way you perceive yourself.
It also warps the way people perceive you. Zoe wears makeup in nearly all of her videos. Even in her daily vlogs, the moments where she isn't using make up are few and brief. And I guess what this ends up doing is projecting this constant image of polished and flawless to viewers, which I can't help but feel perpetuates the unrealistic beauty ideal which we already see enough of in today's media.
In a way though, that is sort of everything Zoe Sugg stands for. She is the epitome of beautiful and successful and wholesome, and much to the joy of every teenage girl's parents out there, she is an excellent role model. But she might not exactly be the role model you think she is, as pointed out and explained in this article.
I think it's a bit naïve to think that anyone's, even a celebrity's, life is perfect. And as much as Zoe Sugg's life seems to be that way, we should realize that her life is unique to her and what she's doing in the beauty and fashion industry is really something that works for her. So if you are a Zoella fan and you can relate to her and you find her inspiring and you want to be her like, then by all means, braid your hair and style your outfits to your heart's content.

But don't think that Zoe's lifestyle is the only way a young woman can be successful, because there are plenty of other ways. Don't buy into the narrow ideal that a woman must be beautiful and wholesome and solely creative to make it in this world. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it's not the only good thing a woman can be, y'know?
One of Zoe's redeeming qualities is that she is quite a loveable person. In every video and every vlog, you see a girl who is very much being herself, and is funny and fun to be around, not to mention, is also very hardworking, very tech-savvy and also a level-headed business-minded young woman who has made tons of progress in shaping her own brand. Kudos to you, Ms. Sugg.
If there's a moral to this post (as there apparently should be) it's that, even though someone may be living a good life, it doesn't mean that your life can't be equally as good, because it isn't like someone else's. Embrace what comes naturally to you and don't ever feel like you have to contort who you really are to fit into the tiny box of somebody else's narrow definitions and standard. Just do you and pave your own way to success. Different, but still good.
Thanks for reading!
--Karin Novelia, Having A Bit Enough of the Dark Side tbh


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