Viewers say this YouTuber should be shut down for ‘promoting anorexia’
But according an eating disorder expert, it’s more complicated than that
by Nian Hu
Eugenia Cooney is one of YouTube's most popular influencers, with a million and a half subscribers. She posts videos about topics ranging from beauty to fashion to lifestyle. Recent hits include "Fall Outfits Video 2018," "How To Do Galaxy Nails," and "Switching Lives With My Mom."
But she has come under a lot of fire for "promoting anorexia" on her YouTube channel. Although she has denied having an eating disorder, viewers have noticed that she appears extremely underweight in her videos.
Eugenia's videos are often flooded with dislikes and comments from people who tell her that she needs to get help. "You aren't fine, if anything you are in denial," one commenter wrote underneath her latest video. "Get help, please."
Viewers are concerned that her videos might be inadvertently promoting anorexia.
Although Eugenia does not post content promoting eating disorders, fans have expressed the concern that her physical appearance inspires viewers to try to look like her.
"She may not be on here verbalizing to young girls 'be like me, it's amazing' or 'the skinnier the better,' but her actions are saying it," one YouTube commenter wrote underneath her video. "Showing how truly proud she is of her skeletal frame by constantly showing her body off in revealing clothes. She is influencing them, intimating by her actions that it is ok to be deathly thin. This is promoting an extremely unhealthy lifestyle to a very large audience of impressionable young people."
And it's easy to find comments admiring Eugenia's appearance. "All I want in my life is to look like you," one Twitter user said, tagging Eugenia. "Your more than perfect. I didnt know someone could be but I stand corrected."
Even more disturbing is that many in the pro-ana community use photos and videos of Eugenia as "thinspo."
"Eugenia Cooney is my #thinspo all day every day," a Twitter user wrote. "I want to be just like her! She is so perfect, so beautiful. I'd die to look like her!" Another added: "Ok so how can I become perfect like Eugenia Cooney? #thinspo"
Pro-ana forums such as Skinny Gossip have discussed Eugenia and complimented her body. "I play a little game in my head called Would I Trade My Body For Hers and you know what, I'd take Eugenia's," a user posted on the site. "Tiny frame and zero body fat? Okay."
But fans outside the pro-ana world are worried about the impression Eugenia's videos might give young and impressionable viewers. "I've always loved watching Eugenia and other YouTubers with my daughter," said a commenter on one of her videos. "My daughter is now 13. She has recently been obsessed with weight loss and it has been harder and harder to get her to eat. I finally got her to tell me what is going on…she says 'I want to look like Eugenia.'"
As a result of these concerns, a change.org campaign started circulating to ask YouTube to temporarily shut down her channel. At the time of this post, it has received 3,900 signatures.
However, according to experts, the cause of eating disorders is far more complicated than just watching a YouTube video.
Claire Mysko, the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, said eating disorders are complex illnesses. "It's not simply caused by watching a video," she told babe. Mysko explained that eating disorders are linked to many factors, including biology. "Evidence shows that eating disorders have biological and genetic roots," she explained. "Some people might be predisposed to developing them."
Mysko added eating disorders are associated with a complex set of psychological factors, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse. Furthermore, there is a strong social component to the illness. "We live in a culture where there is a glorification of thinness," she said.
While Mysko said images of extreme thinness in the media can certainly have a significant impact on those who struggle with eating disorders, there are many other biological, psychological, and cultural factors at play as well.
According to Mysko, it wouldn't actually be helpful to take down Eugenia's YouTube channel.
While angry viewers are calling for YouTube to shut down Eugenia's channel, Mysko disagrees with that approach. "It's not possible to delete every single picture of extreme thinness from the Internet," she said. "That's a game of whack-a-mole, and some people simply have bodies that are naturally smaller."
Instead, Mysko emphasized the importance of providing effective intervention methods, educating people on the complexity of these illnesses, and directing people to the help they need. For example, there are a number of useful steps that people can take to support a friend who might be struggling with an eating disorder.
And while the imagery of extreme thinness on Eugenia's channel might be "thinpso" to some, Mysko pointed out that it's difficult for us to determine whether Eugenia herself is struggling with an illness.
"With eating disorders, it isn't just about physical appearance," she said. "How are they behaving? Are they withdrawing from social situations? Are they showing signs of depression and anxiety? How is their relationship with food, weight, and body image impacting their life and ability to engage with the world and feel good about themselves?"
Without insights into her real life, it's simply not possible to determine whether or not Eugenia has an eating disorder.
If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, call the toll-free National Eating Disorders Helpline (800-931-2237) or text the 24/7 Crisis Support (text NEDA to 741741). Visit the National Eating Disorders Association's website to learn more.