Does The "Skinny Legend" Meme Promote Eating Disorders?

24 April 2018, 15:00 | Updated: 19 November 2018, 15:59

Mariah Carey skinny legend
Mariah Carey is often the focus of the Skinny Legend meme. Picture: Slaven Vlasic / Stringer (Getty)

By Josh Lee

TW: Eating Disorders.

Back in 2015, a Christina Aguilera stan posted four pictures of their fave to Twitter, with the caption "now this is a skinny legend." And thus, a meme was born.

The skinny legend meme, which has been used to describe everyone from Demi Lovato to (most notably) Mariah Carey if often, but not always reserved for pop stars whose weight has fluctuated. Alongside drastically and obviously photoshopped images, the "Skinny Legend" meme is mostly used with extreme irony. But as fans praise their faves for their skinniness - whether ironically or sincerely - are we at risk of promoting disordered eating in the process?

Recently, a Twitter user posted a "skinny legend" meme that brought fresh attention to this debate

Tweeting, "anyone that tells you an iced coffe is not an acceptable meal replacement is simply a hater that doesn't want you to be skinny," this tweeter unintentionally sparked a firestorm. Being so divorced from the original material, many felt as though the skinny legend meme had problematically ventured into #thinspo (thin inspiration) territory.

While it's clear that the tweeter's intention was to riff the skinny legend meme, lots of people said that the language was triggering, and when you think about it there's definite parallels to be drawn between this joke and the sort of language used on pro-ana websites that plague the internet. Disordered eating is a mental illness, so for those struggling with or recovering from ED, tweets like this can cause damage or trigger the intrusive thoughts that lead to disordered eating.

But it's not that deep, surely?

Lots of people feel this way, too. The intention wasn't to harm, the meme is well established, and it's usually so exaggerated that nobody could possibly take it seriously, right? Admittedly in cases where Mariah Carey's body is pinched to the point where she looks like an egg-timer, it's easy for those of us who have never dealt with an ED to assume it's just fun. But when the joke gets taken out of its original context, it can start to do harm.

Taking things slightly too far is pretty much Stan Twitter's modus operandi - you just have to look at the way some stans treated about the tragic death of Swedish DJ Avicii to see how sometimes things cross the line from banter to cruelty.

It's a symptom of Twitter's biggest strength and greatest weakness - the platform's ability to bring people from all walks of life together. While this has huge benefits, we're not always tuned into how other people might receive jokes, and it's impossible to take into consideration every user's personal struggles when firing off a tweet.

So should we stop using the "skinny legend" meme?

Listen, we live in a world of free speech, and, short of inciting violence or hatred, people are free to say whatever they want. But it can't hurt to be mindful, particularly when it comes to mental health. It's easy to miss the mark or cross the line on social media, but listening to the people who are most affected by your words online is the best way to make sure your keeping it cute.