Her YouTube channel effortlessly blends the silly with the serious. Lex Croucher talks to TenEighty about the things that matter. And crying at dogs in the street.
“I am obviously not, like, a medical person,” explains Lex Croucher, helpfully. “I am not trained to talk about contraception. So it was literally just, ‘Why don’t you tell us some of your opinions on live television with Jeremy Paxman?’”
We’re discussing her 2014 appearance on the BBC current affairs show Newsnight, where she took part in an item on the morning-after pill. “I think they wanted to get more ordinary people’s opinions,” she says, “and one of their researchers just happened to watch my YouTube videos.”
It might seem like an obvious fit for someone who’s vlogged about her experiences of things like sex education and periods, but Lex says the appearance was a step outside her comfort zone. “I have anxiety,” she explains. “I hate doing anything in front of a camera crew, panels at VidCon, stuff like that – all a nightmare. But I have these rules. Like, I can’t say no to things if the benefit will outweigh my nerves about it. So if someone asks me to go on Newsnight, I don’t want to do it, because I’m terrified – but at the same time, it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.”
“People often see YouTubers as these idealised versions of themselves. It’s nice to just be honest about the fact that I am anxious…”
On her YouTube channel, tyrannosauruslexxx – which has received more than 12.3 million views – Lex comes across as calm and self-assured, but frequently undercuts that with a sarcastic, self-deprecating wit, making her anxieties (and many other aspects of her life) the butt of her jokes.
“People often think that I’m really confident, from my videos,” she says. “Which I am, sometimes. I think a lot of the self-deprecating stuff comes from the fact that I do struggle with mental health sometimes – it’s a way of conveying that part of my life.
“People often see YouTubers as these idealised versions of themselves, and it’s quite nice to just be honest about the fact that I am anxious, or I do make ridiculous decisions, or I do, like… cry at dogs in the street,” she laughs. “Because that is all true.”
Lex joined YouTube in 2008. She’d done some live shows on blogTV, discovered AmazingPhil through MySpace, and decided to make her own account because she was “bored that summer, and looking for something to do.”
She quickly became a fan of the fiveawesomegirls collab channel. “I thought they were so cool,” she says. “It was one of my life goals to somehow be on their channel. Relative to how YouTubers are now, they weren’t huge, but at the time, they were a really big deal. They were my age, and all they had was webcams, and they were finding ways to be creative with that, and bond with a community online. And as somebody who didn’t have that many friends at that point, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, this is how you make friends – on the INTERNET!’ I think I wanted my views and my voice to be heard, even though I wasn’t saying anything particularly important at the time.
“This makes me sound really self-obsessed, by the way!” she laughs. “I wasn’t like, ‘Yes, I will make friends and become important!’ It was just that I liked the community that existed between people like Charlie [McDonnell] and John Green, so my measure of success was: ‘Can I become part of that?’”
“I think I wanted my views and my voice to be heard, even though I wasn’t saying anything particularly important at the time…”
How easy was it to assimilate back then? “The community was really open,” she says, “but really interestingly, there still was a sense of ‘us and them’. There would be a core group of people who were considered the cool people. At YouTube gatherings, everyone would go off to have lunch, and the cool people would be like, ‘We’re going to have lunch at this different place, so we’re not bugged by everyone else’, which was very uncomfortable and weird, because there was no real reason for that divide to exist – we were all on the same level at that point.”
For the first couple of years, Lex’s channel was “mostly functioning as a video diary”, she says, “or if I had a funny story to tell, I might turn on the camera”. She had “never considered trying to be funny” before, because it was “too embarrassing – and if you fail, everyone knows you’ve tried.
“But I didn’t see that many female comedians on YouTube,” she explains, “and I decided that I would try and give it a go.
“I mean, what I do still isn’t actually straight-up comedy,” she clarifies. “I’m not a comedian. It’s just that I try and be funny… which I guess you could say is comedy! What I’m trying to say is, it’s not like a stand-up routine – it’s not structured comedy. I usually pick a subject that I’m interested in, or something that’s come up in life, and try and think of a way to make it funny – or interesting, at least.”
In 2011, Lex won Google’s NextUp grant. “It was an amazing opportunity, and it did massively help me,” she admits. “It meant that I could get equipment that I couldn’t before, it meant I could go to VidCon… That’s how I got my first proper camera, that’s how I got a laptop that could actually edit videos… I don’t know if I’d still be making YouTube if it weren’t for the fact that I’d won that, because it gave me a huge boost to do more stuff.”
She and the other winners also spent a week at YouTube. “It was one of the best weeks ever,” she says. “Mostly because of the free food at Google. It was really good. I’ll remember that free food forever.”
But it wasn’t the equipment (or the food) that made a lasting impact on her videos. “I definitely don’t think you need to have all that equipment – you just need to have something to say,” she suggests. “I don’t like watching really old videos, just because I had no direction. After I won NextUp, I definitely think that I tried to take my content in a different direction – to plan it out, and have something to say.”
Today, Lex’s videos are still defined by the frank, honest persona and sharp, deadpan sense of humour she honed early on – but it’s the willingness to tackle serious subject matters in the same space as silliness that makes her stand out.
“People get annoyed at me sometimes, which I find really funny,” she says. “If I make a video that’s kind of lighthearted, but I say something about sexism or racism, they feel like they’ve been tricked. But those things are quite front-and-centre in the way I think about life, so putting them in videos seems really natural.
“I’m lucky, in that I make a lot of different types of content, so people don’t tend to be surprised if I suddenly come out with something different. Someone commented recently, saying, ‘I never know, when I see the title of your YouTube videos, whether or not it’s going to be serious – I can’t tell if you’re actually going to do a makeup tutorial, or if you’re going to do a comedy makeup tutorial and not actually teach me anything’. Which I quite like.
“But if something really big happens, and I prefer to dedicate a YouTube video to it, then I wouldn’t try and make it funny,” she continues. “Sometimes you just need to talk about something. Some things have to be serious.”
Her audience, she says, is predominantly “women aged 18 to 24”, and she uses her platform to tackle issues they might encounter. “Working out how to be an adult is a constant process,” she tells us. “Someone will suddenly be like, ‘You know you’re supposed to have done this, right?’, and you’ll be like, ‘Oh god, no I did not know that’.”
Lex fell into that trap herself when she first ventured into self-employment. “My parents have never been self-employed,” she explains. “They had no idea how it worked. And I just never had a conversation with anyone about it. Suddenly, I turned around and went, ‘I read something online, and I think I’m supposed to be registered for taxes…’ It all got sorted out, but it was one of those things where I panicked and thought, ‘They’re going to put me in prison, and I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong!’ It was crazy how unprepared I was. No-one had ever mentioned that to me at any stage of my education. I thought that was mad.
“Nobody ever taught me about what it’s like to go to a gynaecologist,” she adds. “Nobody really talked to me about periods that much. In school, the education that you get is like, ‘Here are the facts about how a period is formed’. And things like consent… They were trying to make PSHE mandatory in school recently and the Tories were like, ‘lol, nah, we don’t need that’, which is so frustrating, because I do feel like there was a big gap in my education.
“Lots of YouTubers are trying to fill those gaps for people, and talk about issues that they should have learned about at an earlier age,” she points out, “whether that’s Sex Ed channels, or people talking about race and representation. There’s just all this stuff that YouTube is now doing that probably should have been part of people’s education in the first place.”
“Working out how to be an adult is a constant process. Lots of YouTubers are trying to fill those gaps for people…”
Lex tends not to share details of her private life on her channel (“I feel like I kind of have two lives – the YouTube side of things feels separate”), but will tell very personal stories (as in the brilliantly-titled Public Cervix Announcement) if doing so could help others. “That came from a desire to use my platform to talk about things that women are taught to feel shame about,” she says. “When I do go into detail and talk about private things, it’s usually quite calculated, in that I’m doing it because it’s not something that young women feel comfortable talking about.”
Although YouTube didn’t teach Lex the lessons she now passes on to her viewers, the internet helped her nonetheless. “I know Tumblr brings out interesting reactions in people – in terms of talking about issues, it can sometimes be quite an extreme place, I think – but Tumblr taught me basically everything,” she says. “Also, through making mistakes. On the internet, if you do something wrong and someone calls you out on it, that can be a real learning experience. I know a lot of people struggle to see it as a learning experience, because they feel it’s an attack, but it can often be really helpful to be called out on something that you’ve done wrong.”
In 2014, several prominent male YouTubers were called out on Tumblr, accused of having physically and emotionally abused some of their fans. Lex’s video on the subject, Abuse On YouTube, was confident, eloquent, and concise – and quietly, righteously, searingly furious.
How much preparation goes into something like that? “It depends on what I’m making a video about, but there’s always some kind of script,” she reveals. “But with something serious, then I usually do have to write it out [in full]. If people are going to listen to your words and take you seriously, then it’s something that you need to put really serious thought into. Well, for me, at least! Some people might just be able to talk about those things wonderfully with no script, but I am not one of those people!”
What’s it like to have a large audience that wants and values her input on such heavy topics? “There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” she admits, “mostly because I know that I’m always learning, and I can be wrong. If people had asked me questions about consent and gender when I was 16, I would have known absolutely nothing. I like to think I’m a lot better than I was then, but at the same time, I’m still always learning, and it is scary to know that people will hold up your opinion. It’s more that I only have my very limited experience as a white woman, and I can’t speak outside of that.”
It was for that reason that, in 2014, she handed her channel over to women of colour to talk about the #blacklivesmatter movement. “In that scenario, what would my voice add to the conversation?” she asks. “I don’t have any experience outside being a white person. Nothing I can say on that subject would further anyone’s understanding of it. There’s only a certain extent to which you can help. You have to, at some point, hand over, and be like, ‘I’ve never had this experience, listen to the people who have’. I think it’s just really important to know when your voice won’t add anything. Talking over other people who’ve actually had that experience isn’t helpful.”
She’s faced the other side of that as a woman on YouTube – “guys telling me how I should feel about women being assaulted, or how I should feel about sexism, and stuff like that” – but thinks it’s beginning to change.
“I think there’s been a big shift in culture in the past couple of years,” she suggests. “I was learning about feminism a few years ago, and I started to notice when other YouTubers were being sexist, and would often say something to them – and at the time, male YouTubers did not take that well.”
She recounts a specific example, where the male YouTuber’s response was “to make fun of me, to get all his friends to make fun of me”. He’s since apologised, she says, “but it did take a couple of years for that culture shift to happen. At the time, if you were saying ‘This is sexist’, you would be attacked for it, basically.
“Feminism is fashionable right now,” she continues. “Feminism is popular. But sometimes, male YouTubers will be like, ‘I’m very feminist!’, and talk about their feminism – but not try to amplify the voices of women. They’re kind of doing half the job. Saying that they believe in equality is great, but if they’re in positions of power and they do care about feminism, then they should also be amplifying the voices and the work of women.”
“We have the chance to make YouTube not like other forms of media. It’s still new and forming…”
In 2012, Lex did exactly that, founding VidCon’s Women on YouTube panel with her friend Rosianna Halse Rojas. They “begged VidCon to get space”, she says, and were offered “the smallest room in the whole convention centre”, only for it to be hugely oversubscribed. “People were queuing outside and couldn’t get in,” she recalls.
“And then the next year, they didn’t even give us a room. They didn’t even invite us. They had no interest in continuing the panel, even though they’d seen that it had gone well. So we did it on the grass outside the convention centre! Luckily, after that, there was a big change. I think there was a shift in who was actually running VidCon, and the new staff really cared about Women on YouTube, and they gave it a bigger platform.” Since then, she’s taken a step back, “just because I don’t think they need another white woman on the Women on YouTube panel. My voice isn’t really needed there anymore.”
Overall, what’s it like to be a woman on YouTube in 2016? “I think all the problems that have always existed for women still exist,” Lex replies. “The sexist comments, the bullying, the creepy men who email you constantly. But at least we’re talking about it now – because a lot of it really wasn’t being discussed before – and we can also talk about the positive aspects of being women on YouTube. YouTube themselves hold women’s workshops, and at the major conventions, women are being represented.”
With issues like abuse, there’s more work to be done. “Obviously a lot of that stuff has come out, and I’d love to say that’s the end of it, but it’s become obvious that this is the kind of culture where people who like wielding that kind of power over [others] can thrive,” Lex says. “It’s young people, often, watching things on the internet, having unprecedented access to these [creators], and being able to actually talk to them and interact… That is still something that concerns me generally. It is disturbing that there are still lots of people who’ll say, ‘But I don’t care – I like their videos, so I’ll support them no matter they do in their personal life’, not realising that there’s no line between them.”
She’s also concerned about racial diversity on the platform, and although she credits “organisations like VidCon” for “trying to make a difference with that”, she thinks YouTube itself should do more. “They have community events, and they get involved with creators, and that means that they also have to take on the responsibility of: ‘We’re not just a platform that people watch video on, we shape and cultivate the community’,” she argues. “That means that it is partially their responsibility to encourage diversity. They have these huge billboards all over London with YouTube creators, and all the ones that I saw were white people. So I do think there’s a lot more work to be done on that.”
Openness about advertising is also important, she says. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking brand deals – you just have to be upfront about it. It’s the law now, in the UK, that you have to be super-transparent if you’re making an ad, or if there’s product placement, or anything like that. In America, as far as I’m aware, they don’t really have those kinds of rules. With that kind of thing, I think there should be a level of honesty between YouTubers and their viewers.
“On YouTube, we have the chance to make it not like other forms of media,” she sums up. “It’s kind of still new and forming, so things like diversity, women being represented… there’s a lot more opportunities for us to do that on YouTube. Obviously that doesn’t always happen. It does reflect mainstream media, a lot of the time.
“But it is still an exciting place to be. I like to think YouTube will carry on forever, and there’ll just be new people coming into it all the time. It probably will, to an extent, but I think it will change a lot – because the website’s always changing, the way people use it’s always changing, the people who are popular change all the time… And a lot of YouTubers are using YouTube as a platform to other things – like, if you’re interested in music, you might start out on YouTube, and hope in the future to transition into more mainstream music. Whereas for me, because I have a full-time job, it is still like a fun side-hobby, and that’s what it will continue to be for me.
“I like the idea of making YouTube videos when I’m, like, 40,” she smiles. “I’m just happy to keep doing what I’m doing, as long as someone’s still laughing quietly. Or not actually laughing, but just typing the word ‘lol’, stony-faced…”
Photos by Rebecca Need-Menear.
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