“I've been putting my whole life online for eight years,” said Paris Boswell, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s most renowned internet star. “It seeps into every aspect of my life even when I don't think it will — I’ll meet someone new at a party and talk to them and then 10 minutes later they're like, ‘Oh by the way, I've seen your videos.’ It's like they know you, and you don't know them, and that's a weird feeling.”
Paris started making her videos when she was 13 for fun. Her channel grew throughout her time at Middleton High School, and so did her platform. Everyone that she went to school with (myself included) knew who it was when we saw the tall, smiley, pink-wearing brunette walking down the halls.
The summer before her freshman year of college at UW-Madison, her channel following in high school of 20 thousand subscribers exploded to over 40 thousand. In our one-on-one interview, Paris’ eyes glimmered with excitement at the memory. She said she had planned out what videos she wanted to make before she even moved into her dorm room.
Whether it was her charm, her memorable name or her relatable videos, “Paris Boswell” on YouTube stuck to UW-Madison’s brand.
“Dozens of people have told me that my videos helped them decide to come here,” Boswell said. Like so many other people that have grown up in Wisconsin, she said she has a special connection to UW. Helping others make their college decisions has strengthened that connection.
The exposure she gained from YouTube has also labeled her as an “influencer,” but, she said, this term holds a certain negative connotation. “People think you get paid to do nothing,” Paris said.
“It can be a very superficial industry. I don’t even like to refer to myself as an influencer,” she noted. Self-defined influencer or not, Boswell certainly has a hallmark of one: a steady audience.
Boswell said that because her content is mainly “game-day” or “day-in-my-life” vlogs at UW, the majority of her followers are other UW students. “My audience is very concentrated,” Paris said. “I get recognized everywhere.”
To Paris, this acknowledgment isn’t a problem. “On its own, it isn't inherently bad, because people most of the time are really nice,” Boswell said. “That's better than the alternative where I don’t gain anything from it.”
The struggles she faces with her platform stem from how she is perceived by others, whether it be in public or online. She recalls times in public when she’s been stared at for a “beat too long."
“I am always worried people are watching me or people are judging me. That sounds really narcissistic, but it's because it happens all the time.”
Boswell says she hears hurtful things from viewers all the time. She showed me a YikYak she had screenshotted reading, “Paris Boswell saw me wearing something from TJ Maxx and gave me directions to a homeless shelter.”
She awkwardly chuckled after showing me. It was hard for me to believe that something so harsh could have been written about Paris. Talking to her in-person, right across the room, I could only sense a sincerely kind disposition.
Alan Purves, another UW-Madison influencer, affectionately known as ‘Al the Badger’ by his TikTok followers, concurred that the feeling of judgment, especially online, was hard to deal with. Purves said criticism is something he and Boswell have been able to bond over.
“So many people talk about me, and it’s kind of crappy. To some point, it's funny, but then it gets to another level,” Purves said. “I know I put stuff out there, but I didn't ask for any of this.”
Paris says it’s hard to blame anyone for their judgement and rumormongering because she only shows certain parts of her life on YouTube.
“If you just watch my videos you could say she just talks about what clothes she's wearing or about superficial stuff because that's all that really there is to be shown. I'm not going to make YouTube my diary.”
Paris lamented on how easy it is for viewers to judge her from the outside. She explained that many don’t recognize how fine a line it can be to draw between showing your entire life and losing a sense of privacy, and just being fake.
“I want to be real, being relatable is huge. It's hard to deal with people judging you when they don't know you. But, you can’t make them know you without sacrificing other stuff.”
Gwen Simon, Boswell’s roommate and friend, said she would not be able to take criticism in stride the same way Paris does. Simon noted that Boswell is just as positive and genuine a friend as she is in her videos.
“People just have to understand that not everyone is going to tell 100% of the truth to 40 thousand people on social media every single day,” said Simon.
Paris and Gwen joked in their kitchen that Boswell is even worse in person than online. As I observed, I got the feeling that it wasn’t the first time Gwen had laughed off a rude comment with her roommate.
“It's definitely been hard, and there's a lot of things that I struggle with,” said Paris. “But I wouldn't take it away.”
Despite the harsh criticism, she remains positive about her YouTube channel and her last two semesters at UW. From being the object of bullying in high school to laughing off rude comments in college, Paris said she’s “stronger for it.”
“I wouldn't be where I am today without my channel — it’s defined me so much.”
I asked Paris about the future. In senior standing with degrees in political science and communications just around the corner, a world of opportunities is within reach. She said she would love to continue making videos, but with new content for different audiences.