The Virtual Connection: Our Harmful and Helpful Connection to Influencers (The Return of Eugenia Cooney)

YouTuber Shane Dawson released a new docu-series on his YouTube channel. While the topic he dove into may be a mystery for the newer viewers, those of us who were integrated into the vlogging and blogging community earlier in life are mildly familiar or at least familiar with the person Shane had in this new video. Eugenia Cooney is a vlogger who I became introduced to when I just started college in 2013. I did not watch her videos; in fact, I was introduced to her situation because of her looks. She was not only a popular YouTuber; she was part of many compilation videos about controversial YouTube stars. While she was not deliberately controversial and did not start any drama (as the YouTube community was not as involved with drama like it is today), her looks sparked a heated debate all over the community about body image and eating disorders.

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At the time, viewers were a still very young and very impressionable. Because these viewers were fans of girls like Eugenia Cooney, the overall impression of how a girl’s body should look became questioned. Eugenia persisted that her weight was a natural trait, but fans and anonymous viewers would send messages, comment, and create videos either showing support, pleading with her to get help, or mocking her body. The most popular types of comments were those claiming she was killing herself by not eating. Others were words of genuine support, wanting her to get help, and to share her road to recovery.

Earlier this year, a photo surfaced on Twitter and Instagram. It was the first time people had seen Eugenia since her social media hiatus. In the photo, however, she seemed visibly healthier than she did in the past, and people were more than happy to send words of support and encouragement.

While Eugenia never explicitly said she suffered from anorexia or bulimia, this was a hot topic. Even though she was posting videos talking about either fashion or just vlogging about her daily life, the topic could not be avoided, and perhaps, it became even more inflated because she would make it a point to deny everything. If you are familiar with anyone in your life who may suffer from these disorders or any other disorders, you know that it is not abnormal for someone to deny the situation entirely. This is why so many viewers were attempting to reach out to her in order to get her to see the problem at hand.

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When is it okay for an uninvolved third-party to give “advice” on a personal issue?

Since the rise of YouTubers like Shane Dawson, Jeffree Star, Tana Mongeau, and others, the impression of what a “viewer” is has really changed. These are not only people who give views to content creators, these are fans, interactors, and they also contribute to the paychecks of these creators through the viewing of monetized content. In a way, there is a deeper connection between these creators and their viewers than anyone realizes as these viewers are literally contributing to the livelihood of the creator. Without views, creators would not be paid. In a sense, this is a very public form of customer service. If you aren’t nice and interactive with your consumer, you don’t get paid. Views pay creators, and without the viewers, there would be no money.

Therefore, it is (in a sense) a creator’s job to listen to what their fans are telling them. Now, because there is no way to personally know what these creator’s feel reading these comments, we assume the best. Creators make sure to involve their viewers in their lives as much as they can through daily vlogs and through other forms of social media like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.

However.

The knowledge of what is in a video is not the same as the knowledge of the person themselves. Despite the genuine content that might be shown, this still is not “getting to know someone” on a personal level. Because of this, words of encouragement cannot be taken as seriously as they should be. On the other hand, words of hate can be taken more harshly as well. Viewers and fans may feel that they have a connection on a deeper level than they actually do. While this does not negate the love of a creator and a creator for his/her fans, this will never be as intense as a personal connection. That being said, this is most likely why Eugenia was able to deny any issues about her body for years.

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How much of an influence do these creators have on their audience?

As displayed in recent years through the reception of Playlist Live and VidCon as well as the popularity of streaming sites like Twitch and Youtube, anyone between the ages of 9-35 can become attached to creators. YouTube and Streamer conventions host thousands of people, and many creators sit down and meet their fans. The influence of a “small” creator versus a different kind of celebrity such as Kylie Jenner or Taylor Swift is very different. Because of the “down to earth” impression smaller creators have, fans are more drawn to the relatability and the personalities they can find through videos.

While there are obviously fans who become invested in A-list celebrities, the amount of people who are invested in YouTubers are on an entirely different level. Fans can easily reach out to these creators, ask for advice, and give their input through social media while this cannot be done with a bigger celebrity.

In a sense, this is what an influencer is. They aren’t just creators; every piece of content that is put out influences the audience in one way or another whether it’s in a visibly obvious way or not. The biggest example would be the beauty community and the influence of makeup artists on the industry. “Makeup gurus” dating all the way back to Michelle Phan who at one point was the most subscribed channel on YouTube have impacted the beauty community in the form of advertisements and endorsements.

(Honestly, who hasn’t seen a product in one of those 30 second makeup routines and suddenly felt the urge to buy all the products in the video?)

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Why didn’t Eugenia Cooney document her “road to recovery”?

This is where the fan-creator connection can be severed and must be severed.

Eugenia is a creator. She is a vlogger. She is an icon. However, this does not mean she is required to share this very personal part of her life. Yes, her eating disorder (which she admits in the Shane docu-series) was something she could not openly admit, and if she couldn’t even admit that to her thousands of fans, there was only a very small possibility that she could share her recovery with the world. As a vlogger, you’re sharing parts of your life that would normally be private. If someone was not already an established YouTube influencer, everything in these videos would be entirely personal and being in the public eye forces you to change the way you see yourself.

Many people who had shown support for Eugenia asked her to get help and document it as this would shed light on how serious eating disorders are and how anyone can get help. Of course, this is very true. However, the severity of eating disorders and the topic in general is still not something easily spoken about.

Another YouTuber recently released a video documenting her road to recovery as she had suffered from a heroin addiction. This was a very powerful video, and viewers showed tremendous support. Unfortunately, the views of fans are not universal, and another YouTuber used her personal suffering for views, mocking her addiction and poking fun at her recovery.

Eugenia chose not to document her recovery, and that decision was entirely hers – not her fans.

“Yeah, but she could have helped other people suffering with this disorder – “ Yes. But she needed to help herself first. This is the point. Going to rehabilitation was for her health, and getting better would help her mental health as well. As a creator, you need to make sure your mental health is in check. Many YouTubers have expressed experiencing burnout and depression, and these issues probably would not be as severe if their lives weren’t constantly documented for the public to view on repeat.

Eating disorders are directly connected to mental disorders. While fans openly express the need of a creator to protect and nurture their mental health, this is not an easy topic or issue to tackle. Some creators have found ways to easily integrate their lives into their videos, but as creators get younger, it becomes a more difficult issue. Hand-in-hand with that, as viewers get younger, the types of habits that fans can adopt might be more serious.

As Eugenia mentions in Shane’s video, while she wants to help, she is not an expert. Seeking help is different for everyone, and if the influencer you love is seeking help from a professional, that could mean that you should seek help from someone who can truly help you.

Let influencers inspire you, but do not assume that their lives are something to emulate because those who might seem the happiest online might need the most help.

If you or a loved one suffers from an eating disorder, please call any of the numbers below.
National Eating Disorders Association Helpline1-800-931-2237
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders1-630-577-1330
Hopeline Network1-800-442-4673
Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

 

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