Why Emma Chamberlain is the influencer Gen Z needs

By: Icíar Cuenca Iglesias

I have discovered Emma Chamberlain pretty late. I had heard of her, sure, but it wasn’t until this past August that I became almost obsessed with her and her content. If you have no idea who I’m talking about, let me give you some insight: Emma was born in 2001, started making videos when she was sixteen, and eventually left high school and moved to LA to become a full-time YouTuber as she quickly gained popularity overnight.

Being told in such a way, her story seems pretty basic considering the amount of people who have gone viral over the years on apps such as YouTube or Instagram. However, Emma Chamberlain’s story is layered and there’s much more to it than meets the eye. As she has explained countless times, the reason why she started a YouTube channel in the first place was to cheer herself up while she was going through a rough patch during her sophomore year of high school. In one episode of her podcast Anything goes, she stated that she felt overwhelmed in high school due to the excessive workload, which mixed with her overachieving and self-demanding personality were an explosive combination. This took a toll on her mental health so she decided to start a YouTube channel in search of a way of entertainment and an escape from her daily life. Her subscriptions grew exponentially until reaching the astounding 10.4 million that she possesses today. She is one of the most important influencers in the US and is considered a role model by many teenagers across the globe.

Although her current content is completely different from what it used to be at the beginning, back in 2017, her fanbase has grown up with her and understood that Emma’s content has evolved the same way she has: for the better. In her earlier videos, she had a signature look of sweatpants and messy bun with no makeup on, her teenage acne-prone skin on full show. Most viewers were actually impressed by her “bravery” because she was willing to appear on camera with what has been socially deemed as imperfections. For others, such as myself, it’s refreshing to see someone with such a big following show herself au naturel, which contributes to normalize the fact that skin has texture and it’s okay to not have flawless skin. This argument may seem obvious to many, but 2016 was the year when Instagram stories were created, as well as the time when most influencers started altering their pictures with filters or Photoshop in order to appear perfect. In short, 2016 was the start of an era of perfection that still reigns on Instagram, where “imperfections” are frowned upon. Emma challenged this view and as a result became extremely relatable to many teens who didn’t see their physical struggles personified on other content creators out there.

In her first videos she can be seen at home, baking or cooking in her channel segment “cooking with Emma” or vlogging on the way to and from school while telling her followers about her journey and her struggles. In 2018 she moved to LA in order to pursue her YouTube career full-time and this lifestyle change was evidently reflected in her content. She was no longer filming at school since she dropped out, instead she was now hanging out with popular influencers and youtubers such as James Charles or the Dolan twins, with whom she created a friend group known as the Sister Squad. However, although her content was no longer relatable to the average teenager, her followers admired that she kept herself grounded and showed a realistic side to the influencer world, widely known as “fake perfect” and unrealistic. While other content creators showed picture-perfect lives, Emma portrayed her life as outside the average but as nuanced as the lives of other teenagers, discussing mental health struggles and issues that affect virtually everybody, but that no other YouTuber decided to speak about.

There are a few elements that differentiate Emma from other content creators. Apart from the aforementioned fact that she discusses real issues and shows herself without makeup, she is often seen enjoying time alone in her videos. As she describes in one of her podcast episodes, it’s okay to be alone and finding a close and small group of friends is much more fulfilling than being surrounded by many people who don’t have your best interests at heart. In a world that rewards public demonstration of social status by constantly posting content with hundreds of people with meaningless relationships, Emma shows the importance of spending quality time with real friends.

As well as being an advocate for a “real” life in an environment as unrealistic as social media, she has also challenged the excessive consumption of fast fashion brands such as Fashionnova or Forever 21 by showing her affection towards thrift shopping. Again, she has distanced herself from what hundreds of influencers were doing. She chose sustainability over fast fashion and by doing so, she became the fashion icon that many teenagers admire. Her love for fashion recently became full circle as she attended the 2021 Met gala and the Louis Vuitton Fall/Spring 2022 fashion show in Paris.

Emma’s most recent content is edited much differently from her earliest videos; they are peaceful, calm and soothing, but her essence shines through. She still shows herself with comfy clothes and no makeup and has no issue talking about depression and boredom. However, she is no longer a chatty and slightly loud sixteen-year-old but a twenty-year-old woman who enjoys showing a piece of her life to millions of people over the world, most of which have grown up with her and are cheering on every step of the process. For many young adults, especially girls, Emma is the embodiment of comfort and inner peace. She does what she enjoys her own way and it feels as though she doesn’t owe an explanation to anyone. She doesn’t fear going against the tide and as a result has developed her own personality in an environment as difficult to navigate as social media. In essence, Emma Chamberlain is carefree and seems at peace with herself at last, making her someone to look up to.