Age is a funny thing.
I’m currently 26 and a half. The half never seemed important until this week, when I decided to initiate myself with the world of international YouTube darling Zoella – who is only two years, but apparently also a million light years, younger than me.
‘Over 25? Chances are you’ve never heard of Zoe Sugg,’ crowed the Metro last week. SHUT UP, METRO.
But maybe it’s an accurate line to draw in the sands of time, because while I’ve been ploughing my pocket money into an endless parade of eye creams and night creams, both the organic kind and the kind that are pumped full of lab-fresh concoctions with names like ‘oxy-hyraosaggalotz’, on the other side of the quarter-century divide Zoella has built an empire on being fresh-faced, honest and, well, young.
I had heard of her, of course – 2 million Twitter followers and 12 million monthly YouTube views will earn you recognition even among dinosaurs like me – but I sort of always assumed she fell into the realms of ‘youth things I never need to find out about’, like 5 Seconds of Summer and who the Blue Peter presenters are nowadays.
Then two weeks ago, Sugg launched her first beauty range, a bathtime collection for Superdrug which sold thousands in mere minutes, and suddenly she was in vogue. She was also actually IN Vogue, wearing Preen and Louboutins, talking openly about her anxiety and panic attacks, as well as her relationship with fellow YouTube sensation Alfie Deyes. She’s written a novel too, Girl Online, toured America this summer and can command up to £20,000 for brand collaborations and sponsorship deals.
If this is the new dream career for hopeful kids – and according to a survey by Tesco Mobile, 40 per cent of 16-25 year olds would now rather be a professional vlogger than a reality TV star, lawyer or politician – then it looks like the kids are alright. But while I’m probably not going to be filming my ‘fashion hauls’ in my bedroom anytime soon (‘yeah so I tried on half of Zara, got angry at the lack of give in the fabric, left empty-handed and bought a big pretzel’), can I still pick up some tips from Zoella and the gang?
In a pre-YouTube age, I learned how to apply my make-up the old fashioned way: by reading Shout magazine and copying older girls in the playground. Once precocious and experimental, the type who would stick sequins to her face with nail varnish for lack of another adhesive, I’ve now been in a sensible make up rut for years: BB cream; Bare Minerals powder; liquid eyeliner; maybe a highlighted cheekbone on a ritzy occasion; done. So I decide to seek out the wisdom of the vloggers, and park the Alpha Hydroxy Acids in favour of something a bit more creative. Teach me, younger girls of the digital playground! Teach me!
First, I attempt a recent Zoella look: Autumn/Fall Makeup: Gold Eyes & Berry Lips. This gives me an excuse to finally buy a dark purplish berry lipstick, telling myself it’ll be useful for Halloween. It also gives me an excuse to attempt that Pinterest favourite, a milkmaid braid going across the top of my head – which it turns out also looks good for Halloween, although that wasn’t intentional. At this point I worry my photos will end up like those hilarious memes of people who tried to recreate fancy cakes they’d seen on the internet. #NailedIt, I will write underneath, and crawl back into my tastefully contoured hole.
But in fact, part of Zoe’s appeal is the fact she’s making it up as she goes along. She begins each tutorial with a cheery reminder that she’s ‘not an expert’, and that if other people prefer different techniques and products, ‘that’s ok’ – you can only begin to imagine how many of the comments she receives are from pedants with too much time on their hands. But the girl does know her stuff, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy breaking the time-old ‘eyes OR lips, not both’ rule in favour of bronzed cheeks, gilded eyes and lips that Lily Munster might have thought a bit much.
Spurred on but desperate to let my hair down, next I try Zoella’s Get Ready With Me – Festival Edition. Zoella doesn’t go to festivals and I don’t either, but apparently with enough salt spray and eyeliner, we can both fool the world.
I’ve always considered myself a person of ample hair – but I don’t have hair like Zoella has hair. While her half-up ‘do of tousled waves with tiny plaits looks adorable, mine looks uncannily like Orlando Bloom as Legolas in Lord of the Rings. I also attempt her bronze shadow with blue eyeliner underneath the eyes, which actually kind of works despite treading a fine line between ‘playful colour’ and ‘Mavis who works down the bingo hall’.
Finally I branch out beyond Zoella to her pal Tanya Burr, another super vlogger who released her make-up diffusion line at Superdrug back in January. The Kimberley Walsh-alike (she was a pop star in my day, kids) has 2.5 million subscribers, is engaged to fellow YouTuber Jim Chapman and sits front row at fashion week with Olivia Palermo. I attempt her Lana Del Ray look from back in 2012, because it feels like more familiar territory for my face: smoky eyes, thick liner, pout. It’s so heavy that I immediately realise why always Lana looks so sleepy, but I find myself leaving it on my face to pop to Sainsbury’s.
Eyeshadow is the main revelation from my foray into the vloggers’ world. I’ve left all mine festering in the bottom of Overflow Make-Up Bag B for years, vaguely remembering it always left me trussed up like a bad prom photo or a bit smudgy and grubby-looking (I prefer the sharp definition of a liquid eyeliner flick) – but having embraced the shimmering neutrals beloved by Tanya and Zoella, I can see myself dusting off a palette in the future. Likewise, having been gradually toning down my eyeliner flicks since the days of peak Amy Winehouse, RIP, it felt oddly rebellious to ink them on halfway to my eyebrows again.
Another thing I learn is that, as I’d suspected for a while now, I do not take a good selfie. I am a traitor to my generation. Maybe it’s being strong of jaw and Roman of nose, maybe it’s being the wrong side of 25, but everything I attempt comes out looking like an East Island statue drawn in crayon by a child.
And of course, if you’re generally anti-selfie then there’s a good chance you’d be anti-beauty vlogger too. But rather than fuelling the fires of modern narcissism, it’s actually nice to see how open and honest Zoella and her chums are about their flaws. ‘As you can see I have a few spots, but that’s ok because spots are normal,’ Zoe announces, bare-faced at the beginning of her Autumn video. ‘I like to collect them.’ She’s posted tearful videos to share low days with her followers too, such as Sometimes It All Gets A Bit Too Much, admitting ‘I don’t want people to just think I have this perfect life… YouTubers can seem like they have the most perfect life, but everything that you don’t see could be shit.’
‘Everything you don’t see could be shit’ should be the new ‘objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’ – I want it written like a warning message on Instagram photos, Facebook pages and lifestyle blogs across the land. That healthy application of realism makes the legend of Zoella even more lovely.
Most importantly, she’s also made me realise that somewhere along the way, amid all the perfecting and correcting, I’d forgotten my favourite thing about make-up: that it can be really, really fun. And there ain’t no age limit on that.
Image: Zoe Sugg speaking at VidCon 2014, by Gage Skidmore