That Zoella Article, Literacy, and Teenage Loves

I should say from the outset I don’t watch or read Zoella. I have of course seen her and know how huge she is but I am not her target market. Having said that I’m certain people of all ages will watch, read and enjoy her content. What I’m saying is I can’t comment on her character. And, at a stab, I’m guessing Zoe Williams (the writer behind the piece I’m talking about) isn’t a regular viewer/reader either. Of course you’re entitled to your opinion but watching a few YouTube videos and maybe reading a couple blog posts doesn’t really give much insight to what a person is actually like. But lack of knowledge should never get in the way of an opinion piece *side eye*. Actually, the article in question is from a Guardian Profile “a weekly focus on the people making the headlines”. Have a read through some of the other profiles (you can do so here) do you notice anything different? As far as I see none launch such a personal attack as Zoella’s “profile” does. It tells me very little about the woman Zoe Suggs, Zoella’s real name, instead I’m told she’s a narcissist and her achievements are glossed over or derided.

The reason for this “profile” is that Zoella and others are blamed for a declining literacy in teenagers. You wouldn’t know about the other authors though as Williams has singled Zoella out. Remarkably I actually found out more information about the study into teenage literacy from the Daily Mail. This large-scale study found teenagers were more inclined to read “less challenging” books than primary school children. To counter this trend experts recommend schools should add more reading time into the curriculum for 11 to 16 year olds.

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Do I think Zoella is to blame for poor literacy? No, I very much advocate the “no-brow approach”. There shouldn’t be a high vs. lowbrow, read Derrida and watch The Voice if you want. I do think the blame lies squarely with government cuts to public services. This limits access to libraries, school funding, youth workers etc. Also, I do think the question should be asked as to why teenagers are turning to lighter reads. Is it really to do with a lack of reading comprehension or is something else going on here? A reason might be that there’s comfort in these books. We live in difficult and stressful times. Finding solace in reassuring books seems perfectly reasonable to me. Picking a scapegoat like Zoella only distracts from the real problems literacy, education and teenagers are more widely facing. That’s not exactly good click bait though.

Now there are many, many, MANY things wrong with this article but I just want to address one specific quote that I found a bit odd. The quote I want to talk about is this:

“While her [Zoella] key constituency is 13-year-olds, Sugg herself is almost 27. She has lost none of her teenage fascinations (make-up, doughnuts, herself)…”

Apart from this being a bit snide do you think this is a strange thing to say? I’m 40 and there are still many things I like that I liked as a teenager. In fact I probably love them more now. I’m pretty sure that’s not unusual. I’ve decided to list some of the things I liked as a teenager and I’m still very much into. 

Music

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I love music and I like to keep up with new releases and genres. I also like to listen to it LOUD. Something I’ve always done and my mother and my gran did too. Tsk we should all grow up.

Pop culture

Goddamn I love pop culture. I love that it can be as light as you want or it can be used to critique structural inequalities in society. I’m so sorry if that makes me immature.

Crushes on actors/actresses

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop having crushes on some of the most beautiful and unobtainable people in the world. I might not have a Tom Hardy poster up on my wall but he’s deep in my heart forever. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Doughnuts (or cakes more generally) 

Williams specifically mentions doughnuts and I am deeply perturbed by this. Are doughnuts only for the under 20s? I didn’t know this. I feel I have so much to learn as an adult (well technically I’m middle aged). I am not giving up cake, no way, you can’t make me *slams door shut*.     

Makeup

I do have a different relationship to makeup now than I did when I was a teen. I was very much into Grunge and riotgrrrl so makeup for me was to undermine the traditional notions of prettiness. Now I have moved on from Grunge/riotgrrl but I guess I do still use makeup to make a statement. I probably should just grow up.

Feminism 

This follows on nicely from makeup. I didn’t know many feminist texts in my teens but I did know I wanted equality for everybody. This “teenage fascination” has been right with me throughout my adulthood. I did Feminist theory in my postgraduate studies. I look at Feminist art. Give me all the Feminist things. I’m sorry if this isn’t adult enough.

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Reading

My final choice for my silly, vapid teenage fascinations is reading. Technically my fascination for reading started earlier with Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton but it really took off in my teens. I couldn’t get enough of the likes of Stephen King on my own time and at school we read classics like Of Mice and Men. If only I had left reading behind in my teenage years I wouldn’t have piles and piles of academic books, serious literature and psychological thrillers everywhere in my house. I never was very tidy as a teenager either; I guess some things never change.

Have your interests changed much from your teenage years? And what do *you* think about this article?

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5 Comments

  1. February 28, 2017 / 1:31 pm

    An article aboout declining literacy turns into an article that attacks a young woman who has created her own career, written several books, and who clearly has a different cultural and demographic reach to the author of the article? The writer is the only person here who come across negatively!
    And I still love plum lipstick, pizza, and 90's music, so I guess I haven't lost too many of my fascinations either and I'm in my mid-30's.

    • February 28, 2017 / 4:38 pm

      it's such a cynical article, there really is little value in it apart from attacking Zoella.

      speaking of 90s music, BBC6 Music is going to be playing music from 1994 all day this coming Friday <3

  2. March 5, 2017 / 11:33 am

    Totally agree with this post 100%! To blame Zoe for declining literacy is such an unfair comment that is simply the author being a snob and thinking she is better than the younger generations. As for teenagers choosing lighter reads…as long as they are reading, what's the issue? I remember when I was in college (probably about 15), we were told to bring our favourite book in for English class. I brought in my favourite book, which just so happened to be Roald Dahl 'Danny the Champion of the World' which is still one of my favourite. My English teacher told me off for bringing in a childrens book and gave me detention for not bringing in an appropriate book. Even now, in my mid-twenties, I love to read books that are aimed at teens.

    Lauren | Lauren the Daydreamer

    • March 6, 2017 / 6:43 pm

      exactly! in my teens I read trashy horror novels. I don't think it was until it was my late teens/early twenties I started to read "challenging" fiction. I still think the cuts in education has a huge role to play in this x

  3. March 15, 2017 / 5:49 pm

    I don't think my interests have changed much since I was a teenager. Reading (Harry Potter again and again and again), writing, listening to music I was listening back then, or just chilling. My tastes evolved of course and I became more feminist and assertive but my main interests are still the same.
    As for the article, I just think it is sexist, misogynistic, despising and as you said, just looking for a scapegoat. I am always fascinated to see how anything fashion, beauty or even remotely related to something to is arbitrarily associated with femininity and women is always dismissed and despised. Zoella is a super successful entrepreneur who started everything from scratch and all by herself. Why can't anybody praise her for her achievements? why do people are always so dismissal of women's successes?!
    Blaming her for poor teen literacy is just unfair and finding an easy justification to a problem. If teens read so called lighter reads she has nothing to do with it. And if teens read her book, people should just be happy that they at least read something! Reading is reading. The author does not change that. And nobody should be judged on their book tastes. My parents didn't know what to do to have my brother read and the only thing he was reading was manga so they got him loads of manga (educational or not). Not what you call mainstream readings maybe but at least, he was still reading. (I love manga too)
    I think that there is a nasty tendency to systematically dismiss bloggers or youtubers from TV personalities and journalists. They don't understand it, don't deem it worthy of attention and recognition. OR, they just feel threatened because they are new media that attracts many many readers while mainstream TV and news are in decline. After all, one always dismisses what they don't understand or feel threatened about. Like, I saw a famous French youtuber turned entrepreneurs and comedian being publicly mocked, dismissed and disdained by the TV presenters. They had invited her to take part in the show but it was almost like they had invited her to mock her. I felt so bad for her, although she defended herself quite well seeing the situation.
    OMG, when I read this article few weeks ago I just got so so upset! ahah xx Corinne

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