A StudyTuber Examines Her Responsibility
I had the grand idea to google myself a few nights ago (honestly, I have no good reason for that one) and I honestly did not expect to find anything aside from links to my socials and websites, but I actually found posts written about me on websites and in online forums. Some of the things I read about myself were nice, others were constructive criticism and then others were just rude - like that one person who just wrote that I am a girl who needs braces.
But there is one criticism of myself and StudyTubers more generally which I came across quite often: StudyTubers promote or at least portray an unrealistic lifestyle. That refers to how much we (appear to) study, what grades we aim for and deem good, and the (lack of) work-life balance we have.
When I read these criticisms, I felt like reading my own opinions about StudyTube from a few years ago. I used to watch UnJaded Jade and Ruby Granger and think to myself, "there is no way they are living this way every day" - in hindsight, I wonder who the hell I thought I was to make that judgement. After all, I do not know them in real life. I watched them both get rejected from Oxford, which admittedly made me want to cry with them, but it also made me wonder whether it was healthy how much emotional investment they appeared to have had in their applications.
But here is the thing: they were both just high school students when they made these videos. Both of them have since talked about how they handled their rejection - Ruby literally has a video on her channel titled "I let my Oxford Application Define my Self-Worth:"
I understand that as an audience member, you form your opinion based on whatever little pieces you see of someone's life. Since I have started creating content myself, I understand that especially videos like live reaction videos to grades and application outcomes document very personal moments where you as the content creator may not think as much about how every single thing you do comes across - instead, you are just trying to deal with your emotions.
Then when you look back at it later, you may feel like you could have handled the situation better, been more mature, or whatever else. I feel pretty much like that when I look at my reaction video to my high school grades. When I look at the video now, I feel like I come across as unhappy and also a bit ungrateful - neither of these emotions were what I intended to portray, but I just said whatever came to mind first (it was a live reaction, after all).
There is something which I did not mention in the video but which is a big reason for why I was quite upset about having missed one mark in my Global Politics class: It was the one mark I needed to get into Cambridge (I did not want to make that public yet since I may not have gotten in because of that one mark). And that is something else which I guess many people forget when they judge content creators: There is always stuff going on behind the scenes which is not on camera. And I know that as an audience member, you cannot know what that stuff is and so I am not saying you should know about it. But you should keep in mind that all content creators have stuff going on behind the scenes which may influence how they react to something. Not every detail about our lives is on the internet. And even if we make these details public, they still go unnoticed at times.
I recently published another live reaction video to exam results - this time, my second-year exam results from law school. The grades I got were not bad at all - and I acknowledged that in the video - but I also explained why I am not happy about them: I have a scholarship which is dependent on my grades and it was unclear whether my grades were good enough to keep it. An article on Unsaid nonetheless quoted someone as describing my reflection on my exam results as "unconvincing and unhelpful," but failed to even mention my reason for my disappointment.
But in that quotation, there is something else that I would like to unpack: it appears to imply that we should be "helpful" in the sense that StudyTubers should be role models. I agree with that to some extent. I think that we have a responsibility to our audience to be honest with them, to do our best to make good content for them, not to promote anything harmful, and to try to offer audience members an open ear when they need it. But our lives are real lives - we are not perfect either. And I have never told my audience that everything I do is something you should strive to do as well. I know that my love for McDonald's is not the most healthy thing in the world, the biggest workout I did in all of 2020 was running to catch a train, and I am not the best at balancing work with having a social life as I tend to prioritise my work a lot. I have been honest about these things and stated them publicly on my channel.
Most of my content is meant to be an online diary - a record of how I spend my time, what I enjoy, and how I experience university. I want to be able to look back at my channel later on and see the memories I made in university. I sometimes give advice, but I have never tried to portray myself as the perfect role model. It is of course true that, regardless of how often I say that my lifestyle is not perfect, there may always be people who look up to me and who want to copy my lifestyle. And it is true that seeing other people work a lot may make some people feel bad about how much they work.
I do understand the criticism and I do think it is valid. But I honestly do not think that there is much that content creators can do about it aside from being honest about how much they work and to not tell their audience that their way of dealing with university work is the only good way (let me know if you have further ideas). When I say I work for over seven hours a day, you can just go to my live study with me streams to verify that. I do not think that I should have to pretend to work less to make some people feel better - I am an international student and sometimes just need more time to understand things which I am taught in a foreign language. But I am also someone who enjoys studying and I like to do extra readings as well. My audience consists largely of 18-24 year olds whom I can expect to understand that everyone has a different lifestyle and that this is ok. And at the end of the day, it is completely up to you whom you subscribe to and whose content you consume. If something does not make you feel good, I would recommend watching something else instead.
And, of course, it is important to remember that we only show parts of our lives online. My channel is focused on life as a university student, so it ends up being largely about studying. I do not show much of how I spend for example my holidays - not just because this is not what my channel is about, but also because there are parts of my life that are simply private. Not every friend and family member wants to be on camera and that is ok. I guess this is something that I could at times make clearer - when I spend time away from work, etc. But of course just mentioning it here and there without incorporating it into my blogs will nonetheless lead to my channel still largely looking like it is just about studying, but I think that this is fine because that is the topic of my channel. I am not a lifestyle or travel vlogger and I chose not to focus my channel on these topics for a variety of reasons, one being that I want to spend my free time away from a camera at times.
We content creators have a responsibility and that is to be honest and to not tell our audience that our way to study and work is the only way (and maybe also to clarify at times that we spend time away from work - e.g. during holidays), but audience members also have a responsibility for themselves to decide whether someone's content is for them or not. Some people love to study a lot - myself included - and other people may prefer to spend most of their time doing something else. Some people would be overjoyed by the grades I got this summer and others may be disappointed because they are worried about a scholarship. Ultimately, everyone's university experience is different. Just because the way that some StudyTuber leads their life is not the way you lead yours does not mean that your lifestyle is any less good or is gonna lead to less success. But it also does not mean that the StudyTuber has to change their life.
So I guess my takeaway from reflecting on this criticism is that it is important for us StudyTubers to make it clear that we are not trying to tell people that just because we work this much or study this way, that this is the only way to do it. But audience members also have to make conscious decisions about what content they consume.
Lots of Love,
Please note that no mention/linking of any content creators or their content in this post was sponsored.
The title picture of this post was taken by Simon Hinger. He is an amazing photographer from my hometown - you can show his work some love here.