Last month, popular lifestyle YouTuber Eugenia Cooney re-emerged from a months-long online hiatus with a little help from her friend and fellow YouTuber Shane Dawson. But more than 28 million views later, Dawson's hour-long documentary special, The Return of Eugenia Cooney, remains one of the few places where Cooney's been able to try and address the many theories surrounding her sudden exit from social media. Public reaction to her candor regarding her health has raised questions related to responsible coverage of eating disorders and being respectful of those in recovery — something Cooney is well aware of.
A soft-spoken, giggle-prone creator with a penchant for gaming, fashion, and beauty, Cooney was propelled to internet stardom for her quirky assortment of vlogs, which see her tackle everything from Kingdom Hearts cosplay to a screamo cover of Justin Bieber's "Baby," to "preppy" makeovers facilitated by her mother. And though her "emo" look is reminiscent of Catherine Wayne's infamous Boxxy character, Cooney is part of a newer breed of vloggers capitalizing on the internet's obsession with authenticity and "being yourself." Unlike many other "authentic" YouTubers though, Cooney's apparent preference for raw, oddly-unedited videos has facilitated a sense of webcam-esque candor with her audience. Bolstered by her chipper disposition and goofy antics, it's no surprise that Cooney is an aspirational, yet relatable favorite for many.
However, this is where she's run into problems; despite being so candid with her audience, Cooney's channels did not tackle topics surrounding weight or body image. Due to her visibility and large following, concerned viewers began questioning her appearance in videos and accusing her of glamorizing an unhealthy body image to her young audience — criticism that's sparked much larger debate amongst other prominent internet personalities, including Keemstar and Pewdiepie.
"I was never trying to cause any harm to anyone or asking them to lose weight," Cooney tells PAPER, once again pointing out that she never spoke about her weight. "But you still see people judging you, and not realizing that you don't have any bad intentions."
However, that didn't seem to register with the internet. From petitions asking YouTube to ban her to the creation of usernames intended to cyberbully her to the hateful hashtags that trended every time she posted a new video, Cooney was inundated with near-constant attacks of negativity — something she says led to a level of defensiveness and discouraged her from addressing things directly.
"People saw me not really responding to things and not listening," she explains. "And that didn't help, but at the time I felt really attacked and really hated in a way. It made me more afraid to do something about it or talk about it."
And Cooney says this was mostly the doing of a particular subsect of emerging YouTubers who'd make outwardly hostile videos about her body under the guise of "trying to help."
"I'm sure some people had good intentions with what they were saying, but just the way some people were going about it did affect me badly," Cooney says, explaining that many of these other creators would encourage their viewers to bombard her channel with negativity. "A lot of it was hurtful to me. Like, so many people were disliking my videos, leaving my comments to kill myself, that sort of thing."
And though she can only speculate on the true motivations of these people, Cooney hypothesizes that once they "get views off of these videos, they start making more and more" which, in turn, leads to even more people "hopping onto the bandwagon." But whatever their true intentions, the damage was done — by the time Cooney decided to take her hiatus, it just felt "like everyone hated me."
Which brings us to the issue of Jaclyn Glenn, another vlogger and former friend of Cooney's, who claims to have staged an intervention that resulted in a mental health professional issuing a 5150, or an involuntary psychiatric hold.
In a video titled "The Return of Eugenia Cooney - The Real Truth (Full Story)," Glenn joins fellow YouTubers David Michael Frank and Evangeline DeMuro to rehash their version of events, which alleged that Cooney's mother has been manipulating her for years and actively stood in the way of her getting help. The trio also claimed that, during the intervention, Cooney's mother called the police on Glenn in an attempt to get her arrested for kidnapping.
However, Cooney appears to have since responded to the surrounding speculation in a live stream, where she seems to respond to a commenter asking if she had seen Glenn's video by saying people were saying a lot of "hurtful" things and "a lot of lies."
Contrary to Glenn's story, Cooney says it was an emotional interaction with her concerned mother which led her to "make that hard decision to take a break for myself."
"I wasn't really seeing what everyone was seeing," Cooney says, before admitting that she had stopped weighing herself regularly at the time — something that made dismissing the barrage of criticism easier but, ultimately, gave her a false sense of well-being. "That was another wakeup call for me. It was like, 'Hey, this may be getting out of hand.'"
At the beginning of February, Cooney made it official, tweeting that she was going offline to work on her health. Entering into a month-long treatment program supervised by doctors and therapists, Cooney dramatically dialed down her social media usage, as she "felt like it would make things harder." And this continued for several months after she exited treatment too, as she wanted to enough time to be sure she was "ready for the internet world again."
However, she was still well aware that there were lingering questions surrounding her internet hiatus. But the fact that even her exit couldn't completely stymie the gossip also makes you wonder why we expect internet personalities to allow us unfettered access to their personal lives — despite the fact that they're deserving of privacy, just like anyone else.
As Cooney points out, "there's thousands of millions of people who go through similar things, but I was expected to be so open about it and tell the whole internet about my problems."
Perhaps it's because we're now so used to the intimacy of a live stream that we expect complete candor from these semi-public figures. Or maybe it's because we become invested in these people like we're their actual friends. Either way, when it comes to difficult subjects like this, Cooney's case exemplifies the unfair way we incessantly pressure and goad them for definitive answers — and that's an issue.
Another problem that comes with being an internet personality grappling with their own personal problems is the intense media speculation that tends to accompany public curiosity. For example, earlier this month, Insider argued that Dawson's depiction of Cooney's comeback was problematic, as her appearance could still be considered "triggering" to young viewers. Not only that, but the publication argues that the duo glosses over the topic at hand, opting to only speak about eating disorders for less than 20 minutes. That said, as Claire Mysko, the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, told PAPER, extrapolating on the details of someone's disorder also has the potential to trigger others.
Additionally, Mysko says we really shouldn't "negate" or "judge" Cooney's journey, as it was "really brave" to even embark on the path to recovery in the first place, let alone decide to share her experience with the world.
"There's millions of people who go through similar things, but I was expected to tell the whole internet about my problems."
"She's faced a lot of criticism surrounding this particular issue... so I applaud her for that and applaud those who've supported her," Mysko says. She later adds that Dawson's video was "a good start" and that we should remember that Cooney is "human and needs to take the time to take care of herself."
However, to Mysko, the bigger issue here will be the way Cooney's followers and fans react to her story, which is also where some of the other experts did "raise some legitimate concerns." That said, these concerns are mostly tied to the video potentially perpetuating the misunderstanding that an eating disorder is a disease you can always see — something that isn't on Cooney at all.
At the same time, though, Mysko sees Cooney's story as an opportunity to amplify important discussion surrounding eating disorder stereotypes. But she's also quick to add that even if she's spoken publicly about it, Cooney's fans should refrain from prying too much. After all, at the end of the day, she's still in the recovery process and should be approaching this carefully, patiently, and, most importantly, on her own terms.
And it seems like people are being positive, for the most part. Following the release of Dawson's video, Cooney says she's been heartened — albeit, surprised — by the warm welcome back she's received online. However, she's quick to echo Mysko's sentiment that she's still on her own private, individual journey toward healing and "definitely doesn't have all the answers."
Cooney is happy that she's able to "hear stories from other people going through similar things" and feels like she can help them. Still, she doesn't "want people thinking I know everything, because I'm not the most professional person at this stuff" — something Mysko also agrees with.
"I don't think, in her current position, she should be responsible for responding to everyone," Mykso says. "I want her to take time for herself to further her own recovery, and she's made it clear that that's what she wants to do." Mysko notes that the best thing Cooney can do when she's ready to talk more is to team up with a professional when she creates content surrounding this contentious topic.
"I hope people understand that if you're dealing with an eating disorder or mental illness, it's not something you choose to have."
And it seems Cooney is open to that. "It can really hard to open up, but at this point, I'm more happy that I can," she says. "I can't share every answer to every question everyone may have, because it can be hard to talk about, and private. And it's kind of scary, because I keep thinking, 'Oh my god, I hope people aren't mad I can't answer every single thing.'"
As for what's in the future, Cooney says she wants to keep her channel a positive space and intends to continue making upbeat videos about the things she loves, such as makeup and gaming.
"I just hope people understand that if you're dealing with an eating disorder or mental illness, it's not really something you choose to have," Cooney says. "It would be great if the internet just tried to be positive to people. If they're concerned, even if the person may not listen immediately, showing concern in a kinder way would be way better."
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association helpline is available at myneda.org/helpline-chat. There is also a Crisis Support text line available 24/7, which is accessible by sending "NEDA" to 741-741.
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
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