Popular YouTuber Eugenia Cooney is under fire for the negative influence that she poses to her nearly 900,000 subscribers. A Change.org petition calls for Cooney to be temporarily banned from YouTube because her thinness is “triggering her fan base.” The petition has more than 11,100 signatures and seeks 15,000 before proposing the ban to Google. “She may not be intentionally influencing her viewers, but showing more than 50% of her body in her videos and pictures [is] not helping girls with Anorexia or any eating disorder,” the petition reads.
Cooney is severely underweight and, according to the Change.org petition, her fan base consists of primarily 12 to 21 year olds, an age group that is particularly vulnerable to the images that she puts online. Cooney denies having an eating disorder and insists that she doesn’t understand how she could be influencing her followers. “Some people are saying I’m a ‘bad influence on girls’ and I just want you guys to know that I’ve never tried to be a bad influence on YouTube. I would never want to do that,” she said in a video. “I would never tell anybody to try to lose weight, or to try to change the way they look, or to look like me or anything like that. I would never tell anybody to do that because I just think that everybody should be themselves and do what makes them happy and be happy with themselves.”
Still, says Erin Hillard, program manager of the University of Notre Dame’s Body Image and Eating Disorder Lab, “Even though she may not be deliberately promoting her lifestyle as achievable or even desirable, it’s hard to deny that younger audiences do seek to emulate YouTube celebrities, whether or not that is the YouTuber’s intent.”
Further, she told Yahoo Beauty. “We know that media images have the power to influence girls’ eating behaviors and feelings about their body, and it does seem as though YouTube is more and more becoming another form of media that pushes products and lifestyles on young girls. I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that viewing her channel could have a negative impact on girls who may already be struggling with body image issues. The life of a YouTube celebrity is often presented as very glamorous and fabulous, and young girls may look up to that and think that Eugenia’s appearance is something they should be striving for to achieve her level of success.”
Unfortunately, Eugenia’s following thrives on images of her emaciated body. Photos and videos evidence Cooney’s declining weight — but as her weight drops, her following grows, and she has gained more than 200,000 subscribers in the last three months. The thumbnails on Eugenia’s most popular videos feature images of her thin body, and fans seem to come to her page for the shock value. Eugenia likely knows this, giving her videos stirring titles like, “I’m not dead” with a thumbnail view of her body, and “How to ratchetly twerk,” with her extremely thin frame on full view. For Eugenia, gaining weight would likely mean the decline of her YouTube following.
Still, she insists that she is healthy. “I’m just kind of naturally like that, I guess,” Cooney said in a video. “I’m fine.”
And while Eugenia may not understand her impact on viewers, it appears as if people with eating disorders are definitely influenced by her. As one person on a forum dedicated to eating disorders wrote, “What BMI could she be at?… I’m just so curious. I have new motivation at last. Excuse me for a couple of weeks while I stare at this girl in complete awe and remind myself that I have to stop being such a fat f*ck.”
Hillard agrees that Cooney’s image could be triggering. “I think it’s unlikely that Eugenia’s YouTube channel alone would push someone with no body image problems into disordered eating behavior, but young girls encounter multiple societal pressures regularly. Limiting those pressures where we can, I think, is a beneficial thing,” she says. “In reading some of the comments on the petition from concerned parents who have indicated that their young girls have engaged in disordered eating habits as a result of watching Eugenia Cooney’s YouTube, I do think the removal of her channel is something that Google should seriously consider.”