Cyber sexism and misogyny have been prevalent since the creation of the internet, and in recent years it’s been getting worse. According to a study by UN Women, 38% of women globally have experienced online abuse, and 85% have witnessed online abuse against other women. The demonisation of women influencers is yet another way that sexism prevails in society, both on and offline. Ashely, AKA @bestdressed, has faced harassment throughout her career as an influencer and is the perfect example of how women are treated online.
Ashley began her YouTube channel in 2015, making lookbooks, room makeovers, and the occasional short film. Her channel gained viral attention during her time at the University of California, where she studied film, allowing her to turn YouTube into a full-time job.
I have watched her videos for years and instantly fell in love with her content: her candid discussions about sexuality and mental health and overall transparency about life as a YouTuber. She began with a positive and supportive fanbase in the early days of her social media career; when her videos began to go viral on YouTube, her following rapidly grew, and so did her haters. Hate comments started to flood in, and commentary and drama channels began to make videos analysing her content calling her problematic. In December 2020, Ashley posted an apartment tour and has been silent on the platform ever since.
Ashley’s YouTube and social media success placed her as a rising star in the fashion world. Since no longer posting on YouTube, Ashley has made short films and reels on Instagram for CELINE, Gucci, and Marc Jacobs Fragrances. Despite this success, I believe that she was treated incredibly badly on YouTube and that her experience is a perfect example of the way women influencers have unachievable ideals pushed upon them and are ruthlessly torn apart when they don’t live up to this.
Ashley’s first controversy began in November 2019 when she uploaded a video sponsored by Amazon Prime Wardrobe. The video, which has since been deleted, was a lookbook of office outfit ideas for work and internships. Ashley showcased various formalwear available at Amazon in her usual aesthetically pleasing style. I was surprised to see the video title in my YouTube notifications, as Ashley mainly posted about vintage and thrifted fashion. Although many people were respectfully criticising the choice of sponsorship and questioning Ashley’s reasoning behind the decision to partner with Amazon for the video, many were hate-filled, calling her a fraud and a sell-out.
While Ashley’s channel was built around her thrift hauls and thrift ‘flipping’ series, Ashley never advertised herself as a sustainable influencer. She did not state that her channel was dedicated to sustainability and sustainable fashion. Slow fashion is expensive, and most of Ashley’s viewers won’t be able to spend hundreds of pounds on sustainably made blazers and tailored trousers. As much as I love going to my local charity shops and digging around to see what I can find, if I needed office wear for a job I was about to start, this would not be a natural place to find it. Many people do not have the luxury of being able to avoid fast fashion. Until sustainable and ethical fashion becomes more accessible, corporate giants like Amazon are sadly the top option for many.
Furthermore, Ashley had just started to make social media her full-time career following graduation. Sponsorships make up a huge percentage of an influencer’s income, and she possibly had no choice but to take the sponsorship to pay her rent.
Sadly this type of eco-shaming is not new and is predominately faced by women. Ashley has raised this topic in a video, candidly ranting about women’s pressures to be sustainable and the public eco-shaming that occurs when they are deemed as not doing enough.
In her video entitled ‘Getting my sh*t together *adult mode activate*’, Ashley makes beef and broccoli, one of her favourite meals from childhood. She questions why veganism and sustainability are always pushed onto women and not men, stating that she has never seen a comment on a male influencer’s Instagram or YouTube asking him to go vegan.
She raises the point that: “When it comes to diets, the burden is really put on young women, which in combination with unhealthy body standards isn’t always the best combination. I know you can be vegan and healthy and have a great body image. Still, it’s intertwined with this guilt that women aren’t supposed to take up space, they’re not supposed to take up resources, we’re supposed to be tiny and skinny and diminutive and feeling guilty about what we eat is such a gender-specific thing.”
While I think partnering with Amazon was questionable, the way Ashley was demonised online was deeply unfair. How the world reacts to women eating meat and not being “sustainable enough” contrasts greatly with the ways it reacts to men. Andrew Tate, for example, was praised every time he brought a new car, used aeroplanes excessively to travel around the world, and showed off his new clothes. Tate even mocked environmental activist Greta Thunberg for her activism for climate change mitigation.
As the Amazon controversy died down, haters began to find other ways to criticise Ashley. Ashley’s frankness about sex was one of my favourite parts of watching her channel. Yet, it was another aspect that trolls held against her. I’ve read countless comments on her videos and online forums of both men and women complaining that she is “hypersexualising herself”, making lewd comments about having one-night stands as “disgusting” and “shameful”. Her videos frequently included innuendos, open discussions about her dating life, and experiences of fetishisation as an Asian woman. I found this so refreshing and empowering to see a woman talk about sex proudly, without shame. I never see men getting mass amounts of hate comments for talking about their sex life, and it made me so angry to see a young woman like Ashley face so many.
Similarly, she was deemed “problematic” and “anti-feminist” after she revealed in a video that she fantasised about being the housewife of a rich husband. The comment, which was said casually in the middle of a video, did not appear serious. Even if it did, who cares? The entire point of feminism is that women can choose what they want in life. Ashley’s brand was built on being fiercely independent, so calling her anti-feminist seemed belittling and malicious.
As Ashley began to face criticism, pages about her on Reddit and Guru Gossiper began to appear, with users finding and posting her surname, parents’ names, occupations, salaries and places of birth. In the final video Ashley posted to YouTube, she mentioned she was currently dealing with a stalker. Most stalking victims are women; according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 1 in 6 women experience stalking during their lifetime, in comparison to 1 in 17 men. Social media has made it even easier for women to be stalked and harassed, further adding to the sexist abuse women are unable to escape on and offline.
Almost two and a half years after her last YouTube video was posted, the comment section is still active, full of people wishing Ashley well and saying how much they miss her videos. Despite this, Ashley still faces harassment from overcritical followers on Instagram. From being hounded for “promoting” smoking after posting a photo holding a cigarette to people being upset that she is no longer “relatable” for wearing designer brands and exceeding in the fashion industry. Women are unable to escape judgement and demonisation, and cyber sexism and misogyny online need direct action.