The Story of Eugenia Cooney, the Emaciated YouTuber the Internet Thought Was Dead: For as Long as Cooney Has Been Popular Online, Fans Have Speculated That She Suffers from an Eating Disorder

By Tait, Amelia | New Statesman (1996), February 22, 2019 | Go to article overview

The Story of Eugenia Cooney, the Emaciated YouTuber the Internet Thought Was Dead: For as Long as Cooney Has Been Popular Online, Fans Have Speculated That She Suffers from an Eating Disorder


Tait, Amelia, New Statesman (1996)


For eight days in January 2019, Eugenia Cooney disappeared from the internet. A 24-year-old American with more than 1.5 million YouTube subscribers, Cooney has shared her life online since 2011. Like many famous twentysomething YouTubers, her videos consist of her trying on clothes, showing off shoes and doing make-up tutorials. Unlike other YouTubers, however, her followers constantly warn her that she is going to die.

When Cooney stopped posting suddenly in January, many fans feared she was dead. People contacted her local police department in Connecticut. Then, on 10 February, she returned to the internet and tweeted: "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."

Just what "this" is remains unclear. For as long as Cooney has been popular online, fans have speculated that she suffers from an eating disorder. She is by far the thinnest person I have ever seen. In her most recent video, posted days after her disappearance, the YouTuber is skeletal. Her upper arms are the size of an average woman's wrists.

It is possible Cooney does not suffer from an eating disorder--she has never spoken about the subject publicly and avoids talking about her weight online. In 2016, she said she is "just kind of naturally like that... there isn't really a reason". Regardless, the internet at large believes she is sick. In October 2016, a petition entitled "Temporarily Ban Eugenia Cooney off of YouTube" went viral, receiving 18,000 signatures. "Eugenia Cooney has a serious medical condition and needs to seek help," it read. "She has been influencing her viewers by her serious underweight condition." (The petition was deleted by Change.org for violating community guidelines, and Eugenia's channel--which does not violate any YouTube rules--remained live.)

Cooney does not actively promote or glorify eating disorders with her words. It is also important to note that social media cannot give someone anorexia (it is a complex disorder with biological, psychological and environmental causes). Yet over the years, hundreds of young viewers have claimed to have been negatively affected by watching Cooney's channel.

"I wanted to be her," says 17-year-old Nina, a high school student from Washington state. Nina first watched Cooney's videos aged 14 and was diagnosed with purging disorder last year. "I started to see her getting thinner and thinner and my inspiration was, 'If Eugenia is able to get that thin, so can I.'"

Two days before Cooney tweeted about seeing a doctor, Instagram banned graphic depictions of self-harm on the site. The decision was made after the father of Molly Russell, a 14 year old who died by suicide in 2017, publicly blamed Instagram for his daughter's death. Ian Russell said that his daughter would check the photo- sharing site for images of self-harm and suicide, and Instagram's algorithm fed her increasingly disturbing content. …

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