I've been dubbed an 'anorexia enabler' on the wonderful magnifying-glass-to-societal-sickness that is YouTube. Let me explain...

There's a content creator by the name of Eugenia Cooney. As you can see from the picture, Eugenia is extremely thin. Her YouTube channel is mostly her dressing up in an emo style (yes, I was a surprised as anyone to find out that emo was still 'a thing') and talking about hair and makeup. She doesn't mention diet, eating, or anything to do with her own, or anyone else's, mental health. She used to include her slightly overweight mother (this is relevant) in her videos, who seemed happy enough to play along. One could infer that her mother probably loves her and might actually step in before her own child came to any harm, but no - that would be too obvious - so the valiant efforts of total strangers will be the only thing to save her. And in truly voyeuristic style, step in they did. Millions of them, like sheep falling off a cliff.

The public has a nasty habit of thinking that celebrities owe them something simply for existing. It doesn't matter what they're famous for doing either. You're an actor? We need to know what you do to your partner in your bed in your own private house. You sing jazz? Don't think you can be seen out enjoying yourself without being on the receiving end of abuse when someone takes a photo up your skirt and you're going commando. Set an example for God's sake! And since Eugenia is so thin, people have - in the absence of any information from Eugenia herself - come to the conclusion that she must be anorexic and they want her to admit it. She's also got rather thinner of late and now other big YouTubers have come out with videos asking for Eugenia to be banned from the platform because they feel she's promoting anorexia to her following of teenaged girls. Actually I don't believe that's the reason they want her banned at all. They're weighing in on someone else's life to assuage their own guilt, because at least then they can say 'I told you so'.

I understand people are concerned (most of them aren't though). It's not nice to watch someone looking like they might be progressing towards death and feeling helpless, but this is where I have a big problem. The assumptions people make without any idea what Eugenia is like, how she lives her life, who she has around her, even whether she's having medical treatment are not just damaging to Eugenia and Marina's mental health, but frankly a sickening symbol of not just the parallel social media-verse where we can act out however we want, but the way we view young women and how they view themselves. And they don't just attack her, they also attack her mother, suggesting that perhaps she was eating all the food. I'm old enough to be able to validate myself without an audience, but for many young women of the generation below me, they need an audience for self-worth. We welcome them when they're considered beautiful and vacuous, but if they show any signs of being real? Forget about it. Don't force people to confront their judgemental attitudes, they just want to be entertained.

As someone with a 20 year history of anorexia, I know my shit when it comes to eating disorders. I've made it my business not just to rely on my own personal experience of how it feels, but to educate myself through two psychology degree courses, thousands of hours speaking to other anorexics, and several stints of specialist treatment in eating disorder units, where I've had contact with nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and other patients. I've taken part in research and spoken at conferences. It's worth noting that the medical professionals often know less about anorexia than patients do - especially annoyingly obsessive ones like me, who cannot help but try to inform at every opportunity even when doing so is rude.

I've read endless blogs, many saying that the only way to treat someone who is severely ill is to force-feed them whatever they can, regardless of dietary preference. The logic behind this works - the need to save life must come before any therapy can begin - but logic really doesn't apply universally because we're all different. There's no agreed cut off point weight in adults and no room for nuances like genetic thinness.. You can just as well lock yourself in your bedroom and starve to death if that's what you've set your heart on and nobody would ever know.

As a vegan I'm never pleased to hear that clinics refuse to provide appropriate food choices for those they deem to be too unwell. This I will continue to speak out against because there ARE nutritionally complete liquid foods that are vegan - it's just lazy on the part of the medical world to ignore this. Being stripped of one's dignity is apparently part of the 'package' in many places. Anorexics clearly cannot be trusted to make decisions and lack the mental capacity to retain any level of choice about their bodies and their lives. This is what's happening to Eugenia. People have lost sight of the consequences of their actions and begun to enjoy the freak show. They're slowing down as they pass the crash site. People who think they have the right to judge. People who believe that their ridiculous comments will make someone who may or may not have a mental illness reconsider - as if it's a choice you make. These people are fundamentally missing the point.

Many of her young followers say 'I wish I was as thin as Eugenia!', but fortunately you don't simply decide to become anorexic. It can feel a bit like you do, but there needs to be some impetus aside from wanting to be thin. It's personal to every single anorexic person, a product of their particular experiences of themselves and of the world around them. For me it was always sold to me as a 'self-harming behaviour' within the context of my BPD, but I always knew it was about control, androgyny and achievement. But for others it started about losing a bit of weight, and became something else altogether. I would argue that had it not been anorexia, it would've been something else. Because it isn't 'normal' to starve yourself to death. No arguments there. For some, however, just being as thin as possible IS the goal. Some people don't want to kill themselves but still want to feel lighter, less visible, fragile. As controversial as it might be, this is their absolute right. The only thing we can really ever own is ourselves. Where others may work themselves into an early grave in what is an accepted societal norm, or jump off buildings seeking thrills, or take drugs, others simply feel good about being very thin. And for some of these people, recovery will never be possible. Some will just die. How does taking away their right to be heard prevent that exactly?

By pointing out that what a bunch of strangers in a virtual world say and think will be more likely to push someone deeper into a mental illness rather than giving them that cliched 'wake up call', I'm apparently enabling Eugenia's anorexia. This is utterly ridiculous, and belies exactly how little people actually understand mental illness. The expectation that simply because someone shares one part of themselves publicly, the whole of their life becomes public property, and that it's the right of viewers to know the mental health status of someone is a reflection of how callous and self-righteous we've become. How dare you withhold your personal information from us? People with visible mental illness shouldn't be allowed out! Eugenia does not encourage people to be thin. She's just being herself.

Another sorry tale is that of Marina Joyce, a YouTuber whose fashion channel took an unexpected turn when she appeared increasingly confused and incoherent, talking about spiritualism and looking glassy-eyed with strange gestures. Once it got wind of this unfolding drama, the internet machine kicked in and 2 million new subscribers signed up to see what would happen next, seemingly forgetting that Marina is in fact a human being,with a family who love her and more importantly who actually know her. But no, once the wheels were in motion, rumours of her having been kidnapped and in danger were fabricated and #SaveMarinaJoyce blew up Twitter. Her mother also appeared on camera to say that everything was ok, and she was there for Marina. Again, smug and self-absorbed viewers insisted she shouldn't be allowed to keep making videos, and suggested that her 'real life' friends and family obviously didn't care for her wellbeing - nobody could understand how perhaps keeping to a routine of doing something she loves could actually be part of managing her mental health and hopefully recovering. Once it had been established that she hadn't been kidnapped (?) the vitriol was unleashed - she was called a liar , accused of duping all those subs into watching, and streams of hate comments followed. Because of course only those of sound mind would immediately assume a kidnapping had taken place simply because they couldn't accept that someone with a mental illness would be allowed to appear on camera.

My opinions are not popular. Being an activist means I'm often one voice in a sea of ignorance, but change comes from one person starting the conversation. You're all welcome to take you part in this too - but you might have to challenge your own mind in order to really understand why this is important. I hope you do.


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