- People with eating disorders often isolate themselves and live online, where they encounter “pro-ana” communities and share “thinspiration” posts and photos.
- Influencers with large numbers of subscribers can inadvertently encourage eating disorders if they are very thin themselves.
- Eugenia Cooney, who has 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, disappeared from the platform a few months ago to seek help from doctors.
- Cooney never said she had an eating disorder, or encouraged or glorified them, but her videos and images were still used by people to fuel their own illnesses.
- She also received plenty of negative attention and bullying from commenters.
- YouTube never took down her videos as they didn’t violate the platform’s guidelines, so it would have been discriminatory to remove them based on her looks alone.
- Cooney did not respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
On February 10, YouTuber Eugenia Cooney disappeared from the platform and hasn’t returned since.
“Hi guys! I appreciate the concern. I’m taking a break from social media and voluntarily working on this with my doctor privately. Please respect that,” she wrote on Twitter.
Cooney’s self-titled YouTube channel, which has 1.5 million subscribers, has also gone silent.
The 24-year-old creator has been growing her following since 2011 by uploading videos of her daily routines, outfits, and makeup.
However, while she built up a loyal fanbase in that time, one of the main reasons she received attention was because of how extremely thin she is.
It’s important to note that Cooney has never publicly said she has any sort of eating disorder. She’s never made a video about her diet or mentioned being ill at all. But over the years, fans and casual watchers alike have pointed out how she looks, and theories about her have ranged from having anorexia, to being diagnosed with a terminal disease.
Her decision to take a break came shortly after Cooney posted a video titled “Kingdom Hearts Kairi Cosplay Transformation and Makeup Tutorial!” where she showed off a new costume, but all viewers could focus on was her skeletal appearance and the shocking realization she had lost even more weight.
Underneath, there are over 80,000 comments — some pleading with her to get the help she needs, before it’s “too late,” and others turning to bullying and hate.
“This is sickening she looks like a corpse,” one person wrote. “This should not be humanly possible I hope to god that you fully recover please I don’t think I can handle any more of this.”
“Her legs are red that is a sign of heart failure please get help,” wrote another. “Her body isn’t strong enough to circulate blood properly.”
One comment simply says: “This is like watching someone die on camera..”
Cooney’s health has gained the attention of several high profile YouTubers, including Keemstar, Shane Dawson, and even the platform’s biggest single creator PewDiePie. The overarching opinion between creators and fans is that being off YouTube right now is the best thing for her, because her online presence did not seem to be doing her any good.
‘She should never come back’
“I honestly feel like she should never come back,” Ryan Brown, a YouTuber who uploads to a channel called Crimson Studios, told INSIDER. “I don’t know her personally, or why she is exactly the way she is, or what goes on in her head precisely, but honestly all the social media stuff did aid her, because she progressively got worse.”
In the YouTube community, the spotlight can turn on you at any time, and you’ll become the latest hot topic for hundreds of videos. Cooney received negative attention intermittently throughout her YouTube career, but the biggest flurry of videos came after her last upload.
Now when you type “Eugenia Cooney” into the YouTube search bar, videos come up of people speculating about Cooney’s death, with titles like “ Eugenia Cooney is going to die,” and “ Eugenia Cooney is Literally Dying.” Others claim to understand the root of her problems, and blame her parents, or her friends.
Cooney did not respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.
Brown said he was concerned when this happened because most of the creators making videos about Cooney had no personal experience of eating disorders, yet they were willing to make guesses about her circumstances.
He thought the misinformation and unconfirmed theories could be damaging to anyone watching them, not just Cooney herself.
“None of the people who made videos on her had any idea of what she could be going through, which is what bugged me,” he said. “I think if she saw those it would only make whatever her problem was worse, because they were all speculating on no experience or knowledge on the subject.”
The pro-anorexia community
Brown tackled an eating disorder himself for about two years. He said when his eating disorder was at its worst, he weighed about 800 pounds, ate 400 calories a day, and never sat down, but he was in so much denial he didn’t think his obsessions were a sign of anything wrong. Rather, he thought he was hitting his fitness goals.
“People told me when I was a really low weight that I looked bad, but it didn’t matter to me because in order to want to get better, you have to want it yourself,” he said. “You can read all the comments that are telling you to get help and all that stuff, but it all just goes in one ear and out the other.”
Personal trainer Aroosha Nekonam at Ultimate Performance Fitness also tackled an eating disorder for around seven years.
“I had a lot going on for me emotionally, I wasn’t dealing with it very well, I was suppressing it, things were getting on top of me, and I just crumbled,” she told INSIDER. “I shot into a place of depression, I had anxiety, I became very alone. And I think the reason I did that was that I thought that’s what I deserved to be like. I deserved to be alone.”
At their heart, eating disorders are a coping skill, YouTuber and therapist Kati Morton told INSIDER. She said it’s often a way for people to feel like they have some sort of control over what’s going on in their lives, especially if they are under a lot of stress or experiencing a great deal of change.
“At the end of the day, if we take everything away from someone, all they can control is their body,” Morton said. “It comes out as saying ‘I don’t have any ability to help myself other than to control myself, so I’m just going to control what I do.'”
Eating disorders also tend to also be competitive, she said, meaning you are always comparing yourself to others — which helps explain the existence of what have been dubbed “pro-ana communities.”
These are places where people actively seek out images or videos they use as “thinspiration” to lose even more weight, and share them on forums and websites.
But rather than existing due to vanity, these images fuel negative thoughts, so someone recognizes the pain, Morton said.
“They can be like ‘I’m not sick enough,’ ‘I don’t deserve help,’ ‘I need to get thinner,’ ‘I need to lose more weight,’ and ‘I need to look worse than that in order for anyone to take me seriously,'” she said.
“It’s like a silent scream … They don’t know the words to express how they’re hurting, and if someone else is showing it moreso, they’ll feel like they need to scream louder.”
She added that those who are vulnerable or in recovery need to be careful with the content they view. This includes influencers with millions of followers.
“Eating disorders are very difficult to overcome, and if we keep putting unhealthy images in front of us we won’t be able to see a way out,” she said. “We don’t want to give our eating disorder anything else to compete with.”
Nekonam found that social media was a double-edged sword during her recovery, because while she eventually found help through YouTube, there is so much out there that can make someone feel worse about themselves.
For instance, there are forums like MyProAna where people with eating disorders often go to find someone to talk to.
Then there are blogs like Pro Ana Goddess, which has ground rules like “If you aren’t thin you aren’t attractive, “Being thin is more important than being healthy, and “You must buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner.”
“It will push them more towards an eating disorder, and that’s the side of it I don’t like,” Nekonam said.
The ‘Eugenia Cooney effect’
While Cooney’s videos never promoted anorexia, they fell into a grey area where they could still be used by people who wanted to look like her.
In a new video, Brown explained this as the “Eugenia Cooney effect” — how she could be used as a symbol for pro-ana communities as “thinspiration.”
“Now having over 1.5 million subscribers, you could say Eugenia had a little bit of influence,” he said. “For years, while Eugenia never actually promoting any ideas of pro-anorexia, or thinspiration, whether she knew it or not she was being used as a symbol for communities like these. Someone with influence to show that, hey, maybe this look is for me.”
Back in 2016, over 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition to have Cooney banned from YouTube, claiming she had “a serious medical condition and needs to seek help.” But it was deleted after violating community guidelines.
“She knows that she’s influencing young teenage girls into thinking being 60 lbs. is normal. It’s most definitely not,” the campaigner Lynn Cloud told Attn. “Ever since she has moved out of her mother’s house recently, she has been getting skinnier and skinnier. This clearly isn’t a ‘high metabolism’ or any other type of losing body weight uncontrollably condition.”
Cooney only publicly spoke about eating disorders once or twice. In one Q&A, for example, she said if people aren’t talking about their body or saying they have a problem, they shouldn’t share negative comments.
“I just don’t think that’s helpful to people at all,” she said. “And I just wish that people wouldn’t put people down so much for those kind of things.”
She also addressed the petition in a video titled “I’m Sorry” shortly after it came out.
“Some people are saying I’m like a bad influence on girls,” she said. “I just want you guys to know like I have seriously never have tried to be a bad influence on YouTube or to influence anyone badly. I would never want to do that. I have never told anyone to try to like lose weight or to try to like change the way they look or to look like me.”
But determining what is or isn’t potentially harmful to those watching isn’t Cooney’s, or any other creator’s, responsibility — it’s YouTube’s.
Searching for “thinspiration” or “day in the life of an anorexia” on the platform last month brought up several of her videos including “ A Day In The Life of Eugenia Cooney” and “ My Morning Routine.” Whether this is because Cooney put those tags in herself or whether it was a result of the kind of comments she was receiving on the videos is unclear.
INSIDER reached out to a YouTube spokesperson after discovering the videos under these search terms in April. Since then, the videos no longer appear under these search terms.
YouTube did not comment on the record about Cooney’s content, or why her account had never been removed. But according to the platform, judgments on whether a video violates its policies won’t be made on someone’s appearance alone.
The site’s Community Guidelines state that content is removed if it poses a safety risk. But as YouTube doesn’t have access to anyone’s medical information, it is not in a position to take actions on comments and hear-say about whether or not a person is healthy.
YouTube has made an effort in the past to remove content that it deems to glorify or promote eating disorders, like videos including “thinspo” or “pro-ana” messages. The only obvious “pro-ana” content that remains on the platform are playlists of songs containing images of thin models and celebrities.
But if Cooney had never decided to seek help herself, she would probably have remained on the platform indefinitely, however damaging her image could be to both herself and her subscribers. And if Cooney could stay on YouTube, others like her could thrive there too.
Cooney still has fans
Cooney still has many fans on pro-ana message boards, according to one who wanted to remain anonymous.
“People [are] saying they want to be skinny like her,” the fan told INSIDER. “She has a lot of fans on MyProAna. Plenty of girls say they want to look like her there.”
On one thread, for example, a fan asked about Cooney’s BMI.
“She’s sorta what I’d like to look like so I want to get an idea of whether that would be attainable for me,” they wrote. “She’s really beautiful and I want her body,” said another.
Other posters said they felt conflicted, on one hand wanting her to get help but envying her on another.
“I think she’s so triggering but there’s some days where she’s my goals and thinspo and other days where I think she looks way too skinny,” one post reads. “I think it depends on if I feel fat or not that day.”
However, the Cooney fan told INSIDER they think if it wasn’t for her latest video, and “how terrible she looked,” she probably would never have taken a break or sought out help.
“I know YouTube and Instagram had to know something about her,” they said. “[But] if they pulled Eugenia for promoting anorexia who else would they pull next?”
Social media can also be part of the recovery
Thinking back to her recovery, Nekonam said it was actually on YouTube where she came across female bodybuilders, which became a turning point for her in her road towards becoming herself again.
Gym is now like her therapy, and she focuses on getting stronger, not smaller. She said the YouTube videos she found are partly to thank for that.
“People often think that an eating disorder like anorexia is for life, and it’s not,” she said. “You can recover from it, you can live a happy life, you just need the help to get through it.”
But even with the knowledge there are positive communities on the internet, there’s the threat of the harmful ones. It’s scary to know that young children have access to them, Nekonam said, as they don’t have any understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong.
“This is why I want to hear more from people who get the help they need,” she said. “It’s a real issue and it should be taken seriously.”
Brown agreed that having more conversations about eating disorders and the impact they have is the way forward to help more people be comfortable opening up if they’re struggling.
Right now, up to 70 million people globally suffer from eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. But as it’s so closely linked with shame, it can be a long time before someone admits to needing help.
“I think the biggest problem with things like this, because mental health is such a ‘touchy’ subject, that people are just afraid to talk about it because they’ll get lashed at over it,” Brown said. “They’ll be told they can’t understand it, or whatever, and that makes it impossible to help anyone with it. If no-one talks about it no-one can even try to understand it.”
He added that if Cooney ever decided to be open about her health, the majority of the YouTube community would get behind her and be supportive. However, he said that’s unlikely to happen.
Tough love won’t help
Morton said the worst thing you can do for someone who is struggling is to try and shame them into getting help. Tough love like “you’re wasting away” or “you look like skin and bones” isn’t going to have any sort of positive impact on someone’s mental health.
“If you think about it, it’s still judgment, and nobody wants to be judged,” she said. “They’re already feeling terrible. So consider that before you say something. That’s why I say the best way to help someone with any mental illness really is to check in, talk to them, and don’t judge. Just be there to help.”
That’s why if someone in the public eye has an eating disorder, the thousands of negative comments coming their way probably won’t have a positive impact for many years — if they ever help at all. More likely, it’ll push them further down the online rabbit hole as they seek people who understand what they’re going through.
On Cooney’s videos, people are still posting comments. Some are fuelling the rumours that she has passed away, and some still make a joke out of her appearance, with comments like “Girl I’m sorry to say but you need a sandwich.”
But there are also messages of hope from fans saying how grateful they are she decided to help herself.
“You can overcome this Eugenia. Please don’t give up,” said one person. “You are a beautiful, kind girl who many people care about and love, please love yourself. Take care of yourself please.”
Nekonam said it’s hard for those closest to people with eating disorders to stick around because it can take some time before someone decides to truly get better, and relapses are common.
“Sometimes people just aren’t ready and they need to go through it and get to that place to be ready,” she said. “They need to have a bit more patience with themselves, and also realize it doesn’t happen in a day.”
If it’s true that Cooney is in eating disorder rehab, it’ll be a long time before she returns, if she ever returns at all. And if she does get better, Brown said the good and bad comments alike she would receive would be too much to handle.
“It only makes it worse for a person and makes them want to keep doing it more because it feeds their need for control,” he said. “So even if she looks better, I think unless she’s in a really mentally stable place, she shouldn’t come back.”