Youtubers and Their Influence

Dear Ceanray,

To begin my letter, I wanted to thank you for a lot of things: for always being there for me, for fueling my interest in politics and feminism… and for introducing me to Zoella, AKA my favourite YouTuber ever. I don’t think you meant to introduce me to her, in a formal sense. I just remember you texted me saying to check out one of her videos, so I did. And then I became obsessed with her channel.

As of this month, Zoella has over 9 million subscribers. She also has one book published, another set to come out next month, and a line of bath and beauty products; both of which debuted to record-breaking sales. Zoella’s success is a testament to her own talent and character; and it is also a testament to the platform that led to her success: YouTube.

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The website has over 1 billion users, and 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute. According to an article on Variety.com, a survey found that “YouTube stars scored significantly higher than traditional celebrities across a range of characteristics considered to have the highest correlation to influencing purchasing among teens.”

Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Teens also say they appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humor, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit, behaviors often curbed by Hollywood handlers.

I know that I find YouTube stars, like Zoella, more candid and genuine than celebrities. Many YouTubers post blogs – video blogs about their everyday lives – so viewers feel like they really get to know the stars. Variety’s survey findings are significant to me not because of purchasing influence, but because it demonstrates that young people can find good role models in YouTubers.

Many YouTube stars are open about their struggles; Zoella vlogs often about her anxiety, and fans flock to the comments to share their own stories of living with anxiety. YouTube stars are real people showing us their real lives and real struggles, and I think this is amazing.

Who are your favourite people to watch online? And what do you think about the influence YouTubers have on our generation?

Sherina

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Dear Sherina,

In junior high, one of my friends at the time introduced me to a channel called ‘danisnotonfire’ run by a young British man by the name of Dan Howell. I was going through a tough time when his channel was shown to me, and his humorous videos provided a welcome reprieve. I began exploring other British youtubers like Louise Pentland, Marcus Butler,Tanya Burr and Zoe Sugg (zoella!) – to name a few.

When it comes to things like makeup tutorials, people are perhaps more inclined to listen to the advice of a person who they can see and interact with – someone who is just like you and me. This can be a more preferable way of consuming, say, information on the best foundation brands to use rather than a faceless article on a magazine website or blog.

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As you mentioned, Youtubers have huge fan followings and widespread influence as a result of their online popularity. Companies have started to take notice; Tanya Burr has her own cosmetics range available online and Louise Pentland has just announced the release of her new plus-size clothing line for women. These are all remarkable feats considering the fact that few of these Youtubers started out intending to have books published and cosmetics and clothing lines released.

It’s so great to see that books like Zoe Sugg’s ‘Girl Online’ have surged in sales, encouraging young people to pick up a book and read! It should also be noted that the majority of Youtubers are relatively young, and have created lucrative online careers for themselves. In a day and age where young people are constantly told that they have no hope of ever getting a job unless they attend university, an ‘online career’ provides an interesting alternative to the message that we are constantly being fed.

Ceanray

Why We Need to Shatter the Glass Ceiling

Dear Ceanray,

There’s an old proverb that says ‘those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’. I would like to amend this expression to say ‘those who look up at glass ceilings should throw all the stones they can find’. The glass ceiling, in case you don’t know, is “an unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.” (thanks, Google!)

A few months ago, the New York Times wrote about a startling statistic: there are more men named John who run companies than women who run companies altogether. This statement tells us that less parents should name their kids John. More importantly, though, it tells us that the lack of women in leadership positions in the corporate world is a serious issue.

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In my opinion there are several factors which contribute to these numbers: the most obvious of which is that some people still believe men are superior to women, and therefore prefer to hire and promote men into high-ranking positions. There’s also the stigma around women in leadership (with powerful women being called “bossy” among other things).

Empowering women would make a difference; movements like #likeagirl are helping to do this, and in my mind there’s been a lot of great focus on female empowerment in recent years. Still though, even when women want to be in a high-ranking position, there seem to be barriers that stand in their way.

Feminism, as we’ve discussed previously, means political, social, and economic equality for both sexes. So, by advocating for women in leadership I’m not dissing all of the men who lead companies. John’s and David’s, keep doing you. But prepare for women to join you at the top of the proverbial career ladder – and prepare for women to shatter the glass ceiling.

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

It’s alarming that in 2015 women are still so grossly underrepresented in the corporate world. Some might say that the reason this arena continues to be dominated by men is simply because there are more men qualified to fill high-ranking positions. While as many as 60% of university students in North America are female, “women account only for 2.7 percent of the chief executives in the financial industry”. Being a woman in the corporate world is a lonely pursuit these days.

On a personal note, I am seriously considering pursuing a university degree in political science once I graduate from high school. I am fascinated by government and how (in an idyllic sense, it would seem these days) ordinary people are given the power to change their circumstance in a democratic society.

However, I am not entirely sure that being a politician appeals to me. The level of media scrutiny female politicians are regularly faced with in comparison to their male counterparts is, quite frankly, appalling. During Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, far more attention was given to her physical appearance rather than her political capabilities. A segment on MSNBC had this written on the screen crawl while her campaign was discussed;

“CLEAVAGE CONTROVERSY: HILLARY CLINTON’S CAMP ASKING FOR MONEY AMID LOW-CUT BLOUSE BROUHAHA”

A so-called ‘newscaster’ on Fox News commented “You all saw that photo on the weekend of Hillary looking so haggard and like, what, 92 years old!”

Ms. Clinton is but one example of the oft-prevailing misogynistic attitudes towards women in politics and in influential leadership positions. As someone who will be directly affected in her life by this glass ceiling, I would like to call upon fellow human beings to collectively resolve, as you said, to make the glass ceiling a thing of the past and a nonexistent hindrance to the futures of girls and women all over the planet.

Ceanray

On the Fashion Industry

Dear Sherina,

The fashion industry has been criticized repeatedly over the years for its use of extremely thin models. In 2007, fashion designer Valentino Garavani said “Designers have to show for the first time on the runway the clothes that they want to be seen, so automatically if the girls are skinny, the dresses are more attractive”. Mr. Garavani’s view seems to be shared by many in the industry, judging by the looks of models on the runway in 2015.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with slender models on the catwalk. There are many different body shapes, and I believe slender women should be represented in fashion. However, ALL body types deserve to be celebrated. Women of all shapes should be able to dress fashionably no matter what their size is.

I recall my shock at seeing an article on the Elle Magazine website about an up-and-coming plus-size model. She was very fit and had noticeable abdominal muscles as well as prominent collarbones and ribs. How could she possibly be considered plus-size?

Articles like that one are what contribute to the body image issues rampant among girls and women. Instead of separating the so-called “regular” models from the plus-size ones, why doesn’t the fashion industry put them all under the same umbrella?

Another source of my frustration is that clothing stores for women who are size 14-24 are separate from the ones which carry smaller sizes. While I am not a size 14-24, I see no reason why those sizes shouldn’t be carried in all stores in order to make a more inclusive shopping experience for everyone. Hopefully the fashion industry will soon start to more widely recognize the error of its ways.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts,

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

Ah, the fashion industry. When I was younger, I associated those words with high end brands and catwalks. As I have grown older, I’ve come to realize that the fashion industry is actually all around us. It is the advertisements we see; it is the stores we shop at. It’s hard not to be affected by the fashion industry – or, should I say, it’s hard not to be negatively impacted by it. I share your hopes that the industry will change. In some ways, I would say it has started to.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself ‘petite’ – my younger sister is at least a head taller than me, but I’m not really that short – but I’m definitely small where clothing is involved. I’ve always had a relatively easy time shopping, because stores often carry my size. This isn’t the norm, though: many girls have trouble finding their sizes in stores. You shouldn’t have to fit a certain mold to be able to shop enjoyable and easily.

In our everyday lives, we see a wide representation of body sizes. It seems that sometimes the fashion industry – meaning the people who design clothes, the people who sell clothes, and the people who promote clothes – only see one size.

As Huffington Post Style reports, there is a new documentary coming out in 2016 called ‘Straight/Curve’ which explores the Plus-Sized fashion industry. I can’t wait to watch it: according to the article, one of the key messages of the documentary is that beauty is not restricted by size, which are words that I wish everyone in the world could hear on a daily basis.

Recently, plus size models have been making the news; many have modelling contracts and are faces of a changing fashion industry. Yet, as you point out, sometimes plus size models aren’t plus size at all – I often see the words ‘plus size’ on Pinterest and online shopping websites, describing very thin models. It’s a big hope, but I hope that one day the fashion industry will have evolved to the point of plus size models being as common as other models; and, as you say, not separating the sizes in stores.

Sherina

Readers: what are you experiences with the fashion industry, and what are your hopes for its future? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!

On What it Means to be a Feminist

Dear Sherina,

This past year has been full of new experiences and self-discoveries. One of the most important realizations I have made this past year is that I identify as a feminist. Feminism is more than a recent ‘trend’, it is the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

Feminism often means different things for different people. For me, being a feminist means believing that women have the right to choose what they do with their lives.

Meaning that if you feel more comfortable if your body is fully covered, that’s great! Good for you for knowing what makes you feel comfortable. And if you chose to wear clothing that could be considered ‘revealing’ because you want to, that’s also great! Remember, self respect means respecting yourself and has nothing to do with how others may perceive you based on your clothing choices.

It should also be noted that women who choose to stay at home and raise their children deserve an equal level respect to women who choose to have a career outside of the home – this I cannot stress enough. The sky’s the limit in terms of what women can do with their lives and it’s crucial for everyone to understand that we can do as we please.

There are many aspects to consider when speaking of feminism. It does not cater only to the needs of cisgendered, caucasian women. The needs and realities of women of colour, transgendered women, women with disabilities and so forth should all be included on the spectrum.

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

I too discovered this year that I identify as a feminist. For a long time, I had no clue what the word meant; I thought it meant you hated men and wanted an all female world. Unfortunately, there are still people who think that that is what feminism is; when really, it is, as you described it, simply equality for both sexes.

I completely agree with all of your points, especially that we should leave no woman behind with regards to feminism and equality. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent Twitter drama between celebrities – namely, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. To sum it up, Nicki was upset that her videos didn’t get nominated for some awards and tweeted her anger.

Taylor thought that this anger was directed at her and told Nicki it was unlike her to “pit women against each other”. Nicki wasn’t dissing Taylor at all – she was actually speaking out about the racism and sizeism in the music industry.

Let me say that I absolutely adore Taylor Swift. She inspires me in so many different ways; as of late, she has inspired me to have strong female friendships. I loved that she brought in tons of her friends into her Bad Blood Video. I think the song is catchy and fun. What I don’t completely love is that it almost seems like in the video, Taylor is doing what she criticized Nicki for doing: pitting women against women (as the song is allegedly about a feud between Taylor and Katy Perry).

It’s hard to support everyone – obviously, there are people we aren’t friends with and people who we disagree with. I think the idea of not pitting women against women doesn’t mean suppressing feelings when you feel betrayed or angry: rather, it means dealing with those feelings in a way that doesn’t create a huge spectacle, and doesn’t make the argument even worse. Having a disagreement with another woman doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist; but the way in which you deal with that argument says a lot about your true roots to the cause, in my opinion.

This past year, I feel as though the feminist movement has grown and gained a lot of support (you and I are two examples of teens who embraced feminism this year). It is my hope that not pitting ourselves against other women, we won’t leave anyone behind.

Sherina

Happy Birthday Sherina!

As I’m sure some of you will notice, I’m not Sherina. My name is Caliesha and I’m her younger sister. Ceanray and I have decided that we wanted to write a special post this week to celebrate Sherina’s birthday. Hope its a good one, Sis!

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Dear Ceanray,

When I think of Sherina, I think of a beautiful young woman who is an excellent writer and a fabulous big sister. She is determined in everything she does, and is usually quite successful. One of these things was starting a blog. I remember when she first started her personal blog, as well as this one. I am so proud of how far the blog has come and how passionate she still is about it. Her first newspaper article was in sixth grade and I’ve known since that day that she was born to be writing.

I also appreciate how easy going Sherina is. From time to time, we have been known to engage in literary arguments (because who doesn’t?). None of these arguments last, since she is always willing to accept that I’m right (just kidding) and move on. But seriously, she is always willing to overlook any spats we might have had and just accept that people have different opinions. Chances are we’ll be back in talking about Harry Potter conspiracies minutes later.

Sometimes I think my sister must be psychic. No matter the situation, she always seems to understand the point I’m trying to make. In other words, she gets me. Not that I’m a difficult person to understand per se, but it only takes a few words and some meaningful glances for Sherina to know everything I’m thinking. She’s also an incredible listener. As someone who likes to ramble on about books and bands a lot, I’m surprised she can stand me. Or maybe shes just good at hiding it. Either way, thanks for listening Sher!

If you’re reading this, I want to wish you a happy birthday and thank you for everything.

Lots of Love,

Caliesha

Dear Caliesha,

First of all, let me say that you and Sherina are the cutest sisters – ever. It’s as if the two of you are on the same wavelength.

Many things come to mind when I think of Sherina, her intelligence, sense of humour and fierce determination chiefly among them. I also feel a kinship to her because she’s just as as accident-prone as I am.

Remember last summer when she couldn’t hear properly for two weeks? We had done so many pool handstands that her ears became almost completely blocked. Over those two weeks, talking to Sherina usually consisted of her politely nodding as you spoke because she had no idea what you were saying. Alternatively, you would be greeted with “WHAAAT?” or “I’m sorry, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Patience is a virtue, one that she most certainly has been blessed with.

She must be tired of hearing this by now, but she is probably one of the smartest people I know. I also agree with her on just about every social and political issue under the sun. She is already a devoted sister, daughter, cousin and feminist.There isn’t a doubt in my mind that she’ll become a wildly successful journalist.

I don’t know what I’d do without her. She understands me better than most people and I’m eternally grateful for that, and her. Both of you are more like sisters to me than cousins, and we’re pretty lucky that we have someone like Sher looking out for us.

Ceanray

P.S. I would just like to add that this post was Caliesha’s idea and that she is a pretty amazing person as well. 🙂

Book Review: “A Train in Winter” by Caroline Moorhead

Hey there!

We’ve decided to take on a new challenge over the summer. In addition to our regular weekly letters, we will also be taking turns doing book reviews in letter format. We do hope you enjoy them. Happy reading!

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Dear Sherina,

I had been wanting to read “A Train in Winter” by Caroline Moorhead for a few months now, and at the start of summer vacation I was finally able to! Without going into too much detail, the book describes the arrests and concentration camp experiences of women who had been involved with the French Resistance during the Second World War.

The displays of courage and bravery depicted in this nonfiction account are inspiring, as well as a testament of forming bonds deeper than friendship in order to survive. The majority of the women Caroline Moorhead discusses were heavily involved in resisting the Nazi occupation. They did not stand idly by as their situation worsened. These women hid Jews in their homes and helped them cross into Free France, they wrote and distributed anti-Nazi tracts and engineered explosions to derail supply trains intended for the Germans, among other things.

When arrested, many did not cower to their occupiers. They spat, kicked, slapped and screamed in their faces. Often they tried to get the attention of onlookers by shouting and making a big scene. They did not go down without a fight.

While reading their stories, I tried to imagine how I would respond if I had been in their position. Would I have fought and resisted against the Nazis? Or, would I have shut my drapes and hid in my apartment in an attempt to hide until it was all over – continuing my life as normally as possible?

I hope that I would act as the former, however that’s easy for me to say living in the comfort of 21st century North America. Would I have been passive or aggressive towards Hitler’s forces?

When we learn about history, we often think that we, ourselves would be so defiant and brave in the face of oppression and inhumanity.

What do you think?

Ceanray

P.S. Let us know what you think in the comments section below! We welcome your suggestions/feedback. 🙂

Countdown to Summer!

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Dear Ceanray,

As I’m sure you know, summer is quickly approaching. Final exams are being studied for, warm weather seems right around the corner, and soon school will take a backseat to life and summer fun for 2 months as students relax and unwind. Personally, I am really looking forward to relaxing this summer. My school year was great – I had cool learning experiences, met new people, laughed a lot, and had tons of fun. Still, I won’t miss having a calendar full of due dates or waking up early to get ready for school.

On certain occasions throughout the year (long weekends spent at my cottage, going on vacation on March Break), I have had “mini-summers” where I could unwind. Whenever I had the chance to do this, I would reflect on how I could make my life at home more like my life on vacation. Usually my answers included things like ‘wear sweatpants’, ‘sleep in’, and ‘read’ – things I don’t do very often when I’m not relaxing.

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As much as I try to incorporate the things i do on vacation into my everyday life, many things are exclusive to being on vacation (or being at my cottage). I can’t ride a jetski at home (can you imagine that thing in a pool?) and I can’t sleep in until noon on school days (well technically I could, but it’s probably not a great idea).

These are the things I am looking forward to most about summer; the things that I couldn’t do (and didn’t have time for) during the school year. I am so excited to go on vacations and road trips, to read in my backyard and even to apply liberal amounts of sunscreen before stepping out my front door (and then reapply it every hour).

I am ecstatic to read through the books on my Goodreads lists, to go to the mall and buy summer clothes, and to make the things on my Pinterest boards. My excitement for these things is part of what is keeping me afloat as school winds to an end. What are you looking forward to about summer, and how do you feel about school ending?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

Ahh, finally summer is upon us. I’m looking forward to everything from no homework, hitting the gym and starting a new job! After having my nose buried in a textbook for what seems like forever, it’s so nice to finally have a break.

My to-do list for this summer includes a variety of tasks ranging from cleaning out my closet to finishing the Mortal Instruments book series. I also have a few passion projects going on at the moment. I joined a group founded in Canada called “Peace of Mind” which comprises of teenagers from across the province who are devoted to raising awareness and erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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This particular cause is very near and dear to my heart. Mental illness in teens is often met with misunderstanding and judgement for those who suffer from it. Where I live, there has been at least half a dozen teen suicides within the past month or so. This needs to change.

I’m so very grateful that not only do we get a chance to relax by the pool and sip lemonade over the summer, we also get the chance to pursue other projects that we don’t have time for during the year.

Here’s to a great summer!

Ceanray

Readers, what are you counting down the days for? Let us know in the comments!