Opinion

“Zoella’s smear test videos are an empowering example for young women like me”

Posted by
Lauren Geall
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Zoella/Zoe Sugg

Zoe Sugg’s smear test series is an eye-opening and informative introduction to a procedure which is so often feared by young women.

I watched my first Zoella video at the age of 14.

At that time, she still had a relatively small audience – at least compared to her 4.8M-strong audience of today – and mostly filmed Primark shopping hauls and make-up reviews from a corner of her Somerset bedroom (which was blanketed in fairy lights). When she wasn’t filming collaborations with her friends or answering questions on camera for her viewers, she was posing for selfies on her Instagram and writing about her favourite baking recipes on her blog. She was like the big sister figure I’d always wanted: relatable, funny and, most importantly, real.

Over the years, my attachment to Zoella – who has since rebranded herself simply with her name, Zoe Sugg – has faded. I’ve grown up, discovered new interests and learnt a lot about myself: so much so that I didn’t really need that guidance anymore. At least, that’s what I thought.

Because, out of the blue, Zoe Sugg has given me the guidance I didn’t even know I needed. Years after I gave up watching her videos and stopped following her social media posts with an almost religious zeal, she’s reminded me exactly why her videos were so impactful in my teenage years. And in the process, she’s revealed how powerful influencers – with their normal(ish) lives and relatability – really can be.

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Last week, Sugg uploaded a series of four videos on to her Instagram and YouTube, following her journey as she had a smear test. Alongside the very helpful and welcoming nurse, Jenny, Sugg asked helpful, informative questions: covering everything from the issue of what actually happens during a smear test, to what to do if you’re feeling particularly worried (apparently you’re allowed to bring in a friend or family member). And in choosing to film the video actually at her own smear test – opposed to asking the nurse questions from the comfort of her own home – Sugg was able to offer a first-hand experience that those of us who have never had a smear test before will find extremely insightful. 

The subject of smear tests – and attendance of them by young women in particular – is an extremely difficult and prevalent issue. In January this year, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust revealed survey results that showed over two thirds of 25-35 year olds wouldn’t tell their nurse their smear test worries, with almost half admitting they regularly put off or simply don’t attend their test.

Out of the young women who said they would put off the test, 71% said they felt scared at the prospect of going, while 67% said they would not feel in control at the prospect of the test. 

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And it’s videos like Sugg’s that are going to change that. As the nurse talked the influencer through the steps, procedure and equipment involved in the test, the experience – which had once seemed a terrifying and mysterious prospect to me – suddenly became a lot less intimidating. 

Why? Because instead of letting my imagination run wild with pictures of massive metal objects and frustrated nurses, the videos gave me a realistic picture through which to rationalise my anxieties – and I’m sure they did the same for thousands of young women just like me. 

Which, considering the fact that this awkward five-minute procedure is estimated to save around 5,000 lives a year in the UK, is no small thing.

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Lauren Geall

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