During October 2015, a Change.org petition was signed by over 18000 people to remove vlogger Eugenia Cooney from posting videos on YouTube. Cooney, aged 22, is a sweet young woman posts videos related to beauty tips and clothing hauls to an audience of over 890 000 followers. The problem? Her emancipated-looking body. The petitioners believe she is promoting anorexia and want her to stop making videos until she seeks medical help “before she dies”.
She publicly defended herself, saying that her body is naturally this thin and that she has no illnesses that cause her skinny physique. While she insists that she has never encouraged her followers to strive to look like her, her thin body is clearly visible in the crop tops, shorts and skirts she wears in her videos.
“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.” – Eugenia Cooney
She has been considered to be setting a terrible influence and has even appeared on “thinspo” websites. One of the petitioners claimed that their 12-year-old cousin starved herself to the point of medical intervention in order to look like Cooney. Many commentators have added a contribution of a similar influence, saying that she ‘triggers’ them into wanting to stop eating.
Social media’s effect on self-image
For a long time, the effect of media in the form of movies, television, fashion and advertising on self-image has been established as generally problematic. We now have a new monkey on our back; social media. Recent research has shown that women use social media platforms as body ideals far more than they use movies or billboards. Nowadays, social media is the foremost way young people make sense of the outside world. Additionally, the visual content to compare oneself to has never been more abundant.
Psychologists have found disturbing correlations between social media use with dieting, body surveillance, a fixation on thinness as well as self-objectification amongst adolescents. Young people may become obsessed with the ratings they receive and this quest for validation disturbs their self-image. Image-heavy social media platforms – such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat – allow ratings that may lead to young people obsessively using them as validation for self-image. This also leads to a lot of public comparisons between adolescents and their peers (or even strangers).
‘Skinny-shaming’ and the effects of stigma on anorexics
At this point, we have no conclusion as to whether Cooney truly has anorexia nervosa. Let’s just say for a moment that she does suffer from this illness. This, then, goes beyond regular skinny-shaming. In addition to battling with anorexia, Cooney would also have to face stigma on a frighteningly large scale.
As anorexia is not seen as severe as other mental illnesses, many people may be deluded as to how much power it takes to control the disorder. Cooney is now completely aware of how society perceived her body – which is called felt stigma – and this would be accepted into her self-schema. So much negativity would only compromise any journey towards recovery, as the experience of stigma often delays seeking rehabilitation. So despite the petitioners’ seemingly proactive concern, the petition – as well as videos made by other YouTubers publically demanding her to get help – is counterproductive to the journey she would make to recovery.
Is it right to censor Eugenia Cooney?
Since then, the petition has been removed and Cooney is still an active vlogger. YouTube had not directly commented on the petition, but it did highlight its policies. Viewers can flag any content that deem is wrong. Videos that are considered that contain “an express intention to glorify or promote eating disorders” are removed.
Further, banning her appears to be going against the very ideals that the internet originally proposed: the possibility of a democracy of voices. Though the history of the media’s body-shaming effect on women is very important, silencing Cooney opens up a very complex debate about what should be allowed to be posted on social media. At what point do we censor people due to ‘unhealthy lifestyles’? Who who determines what is ‘too unhealthy’? Overweight vloggers who do eating mukbangs? Vloggers who promote alcoholism? This ban removes the validity for other social media users, who may have problematic aspects, the opportunity to have a voice on the internet.