The Chrissy Teigen and Courtney Stodden controversy, explained

Chrissy Teigen, the former queen of Twitter, has gotten into a lot of trouble lately on the very platform she once ruled.

Teigen is famous because she’s a model, TV host, and bestselling cookbook author who is married to John Legend. (Disclosure: Legend sits on the board of Vox Media.) But her real claim to the widespread adoration she enjoyed until fairly recently came from the fact that she was good at Twitter. Her feed is full of funny, candid, uncensored jokes that underscore her “just like you, if you were incredibly hot and hilarious and married to an EGOT-winner” charm.

If Teigen’s jokes sometimes came at the expense of other people — well, who cared as long as those jokes were aimed at widely despised figures of contempt? Her sick Donald Trump burns were so widely admired by progressives that Trump once went on a Twitter rampage about her, and then blocked her. A friend of Teigen’s framed the tweets that made him mad, and Teigen put them on display in her house.

Earlier this year, however, TV personality Courtney Stodden pointed out a dark side to Teigen’s refreshingly unfiltered feed.

Stodden first became famous in 2011, when at the age of 16 they married 50-year-old acting coach Doug Hutchison. (Stodden is nonbinary.) Stodden and Hutchinson are now divorced, and from the vantage point of 2021, it’s clear that during their marriage, Stodden was a child who was being abused by an adult man. But in 2011, Stodden was widely considered to be someone ridiculous and mockable, someone whose feelings you didn’t have to care about. People called them “the child bride” and made vicious jokes at their expense. Teigen was not only one of many to make those jokes, but did so in a particularly brutal fashion, directing them right at Stodden.

“I experienced so much harassment and bullying from her when I was just 16 years old,” Stodden said of Teigen in an Instagram video in March of 2021. “At a time when I needed help. I was being abused.”

Stodden revealed multiple tweets Teigen sent to them at the beginning of the 2010s. “my Friday fantasy: you. dirt nap. mmm baby,” Teigen tweeted at Stodden in 2011. In another tweet, she simply wrote, “I hate you.”

“It really affected me,” Stodden said in their Instagram video. “It’s so damaging when you have somebody like Chrissy Teigen bullying children.”

In May, Stodden discussed Teigen’s bullying in an interview with the Daily Beast, adding that in addition to publicly tweeting at them, Teigen had also occasionally direct-messaged Stodden, telling them to kill themselves.

The story began to spread. Days later, Teigen’s cookware line, Cravings, disappeared from the Macy’s website. Macy’s has made no statement as to why the line has disappeared, but figures like right-wing pundit Candace Owens celebrated the move as a triumph over Teigen. Page Six declared Teigen an “undercover bully”; Pete Davidson joked on Saturday Night Live that “getting Chrissy Teigen out of our lives” was one of the only good things about the past year.

The Cut had an overview of the story, and so did Vulture and Slate. USA Today had an op-ed about it. What happened between Teigen and Stodden was all over the internet.

“I’m mortified and sad at who I used to be,” Teigen wrote in an apology thread on Twitter on May 12. “I was an insecure, attention seeking troll. I am ashamed and completely embarrassed at my behavior but that is nothing compared to how I made Courtney feel.” She has not posted since.

Chrissy Teigen looks to be pretty canceled. And her cancellation is notable not only because she used to be so beloved, but because it points to a major cultural shift that seems to have occurred within the very period in which Teigen got famous.

Teigen became popular in the first place because she was really good at Twitter in the early 2010s. What it means to be good at Twitter now is very different from what it meant to be good at Twitter then — and if we unpack those changes, we can see just how drastically the culture has shifted in a single tumultuous decade.

“Chrissy Teigen is sort of the Jennifer Lawrence of the modeling world”: The rise of Twitter’s favorite supermodel

Chrissy Teigen laughing on the set of NBC News’s Today show in 2013.
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

“Supermodel Chrissy Teigen is funny,” begins an Esquire profile of Teigen in 2014. “Not funny-for-Twitter funny. Like, straight-up funny. Even in real life.” This is the frisson that animates almost all early profiles of Teigen: a slightly condescending awe at the fact that not only is she a professionally beautiful person but she can also tell a joke. What are the chances!

Plus, did you know she likes food?

“I know it’s a cliché when supermodels say they love food and eat whatever they want and mysteriously never gain weight,” that 2014 Esquire profile continues. “But Chrissy actually adores food.”

Today, the celebrity-profile-reading public has internalized the lessons of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl deeply enough to be cynical about an article that so closely maps onto the archetype of Flynn’s “Cool Girl” — “a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2.” In 2014, however, Jennifer Lawrence reigned as the queen of Hollywood, and a Cool Girl was the best thing any young star on the make could be.

Teigen appeared to fit the Cool Girl bill, and the profiles practically wrote themselves.

Teigen has real food cred. She launched a food blog in 2011, discussed her firm food opinions frequently on social media, and would go on to publish two bestselling cookbooks. But Teigen’s bona fides as a foodie were less important to her public image as she came up than the pleasing contrast between her evident love of food and the picture of her on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a bikini. The appeal of that contrast only increased as it became clear that Teigen was also funny, and that her sense of humor was not publicist-approved.

“Sure, her types of jobs may be more Maxim than Vogue, but it’s not just her curviness that makes her different than a typical runway girl,” enthused the Daily Beast in 2014. “She shows a side that’s rarely seen in supermodels: personality. She loves to talk. And she loves to eat.”

“Chrissy Teigen is sort of the Jennifer Lawrence of the modeling world,” mused Elle the same year. “No, she doesn’t trip a lot (to my knowledge?) but she does toe the line between self-deprecating charm and foot-in-mouth chaos in that J.Law-patented way.”

It was essential to Teigen’s appeal that she make her jokes in public, on Twitter, where everyone could see them. And Teigen really was very good at Twitter: She spent her teen years, she’s said, toggling back and forth between MySpace and the Neopet forum she ran. She’s fluent in the language of the unimpressed cooler-than-thou online. So you would maybe follow her even if she wasn’t famous for other stuff, because she was just that charming.

“I always have a note in my pocket that says ‘john did it’ just in case I’m murdered because I don’t want him to remarry #truelove #tips,” went one tweet in 2014.

“My newborn just looked up at me and said ‘mommy, why is Piers Morgan so unequivocally douchy?’ I didn’t know what to say,” went another in 2016.

“Teigen’s assault of awesomeness starts in person with her ceaseless foodie chatter and continues on her nervy Twitter feed,” GQ had written early in Teigen’s rise, in 2013: “highgrade funny, third-drink unhinged, often sourced from 30,000 feet. (‘AHHH seated in the danger zone I love it balls in my face balls balls in my face.’)”

Equally essential to Teigen’s allure was that her jokes didn’t always land, that they were frequently dirty, and that they were often right on the edge of what was considered acceptable discourse at the time. That 2013 GQ article asks of Teigen: “Any morning after regrets?” To which she responds, “All the time! But not really a regret that I thought it, just that I said it.”

Such admissions were part of what made Teigen seem real, and gave her a bit of an edge. Besides, she playfully roasted her husband John Legend more than practically anyone (“eff that dude talk about zero talent”), so to most onlookers, her zingers didn’t seem to be all that personal. Plus, Teigen would candidly admit that being unfiltered on social media sometimes did really hurt her.

“It wasn’t really an accepted thing within my modelling and TV career early on,” Teigen told Harpers Bazaar in 2017. “I would get in trouble, lots of phone calls from agents saying ‘Why did you tweet this? Now we’re in trouble with such-and-such a contract because you were too outspoken.’ I got so much feedback that I needed to watch my mouth if I wanted to work with certain people. And I remember sobbing so much because it was just the worst feeling, letting people down. I definitely lost work because people would shy away from being associated [with me], and I totally get it, too—they have to appeal to everybody.”

Teigen insisted that she always simply refused to listen to those who told her to tone it down. “I’m happy I didn’t because now they look at you for the way you are, and I love being an open book,” she went on. “I feel like everyone knows what they’re getting now and it’s a very comfortable place to be in life.”

Part of what people were getting with Teigen was a refreshing transparency. In 2017, she wrote an essay for Glamour about her experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, Luna. “Phew! I’ve hated hiding this from you,” Teigen wrote at the end. Her popularity soared.

Another part of what people were getting with Teigen, as most profiles of her acknowledged, was someone who got into social media fights a fair amount.

“The star seems to be a lightning rod for strong opinions,” noted Delish in 2016. “Maybe it’s because she’s not afraid to fire back, often replying directly to her dissenters.” Those fights were aggregation-friendly, though; the internet is littered with dozens upon dozens of posts titled some variation of “Chrissy Teigen Clapped Back at Her Haters and It Was Epic.”

Endearingly, Teigen was cool enough to know those aggregations were lame. “if I had my choice, not a single story would ever be written about any tweets of mine,” Teigen tweeted in 2018. “they make people (me) seem like…the most annoying people. the ‘clapback’ wasn’t ‘epic’, it was just a fuccccccking tweet – just please stop with these stupid words.”

Teigen was good at trolling on Twitter in the same way she was good at telling jokes on Twitter. And the press was happy to frame that trolling as harmless fun, always directed at people who really deserved it, like anyone who was super mad that she put cheese in her guacamole.

The press — with the notable exception of the right-wing press — seemed especially approving of Teigen when her trolling was directed at Trump.

“We must keep ‘evil’ out of our country!” Trump tweeted in 2017. “what time should we call your Uber?” replied Teigen.

“Chrissy Teigen’s Latest Tweet to President Trump Is Epic,” announced Time magazine.

Trump eventually blocked Teigen in 2017, after she tweeted, “lol no one likes you” at him, but he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about her. In 2019, Trump would go on a rampage after John Legend mentioned Trump’s latest criminal justice reform bill on a late-night show but didn’t give Trump as much credit as he preferred. “Guys like boring musician @johnlegend and his filthy-mouthed wife are talking now about how great [the bill] is – but I didn’t see them around when we needed help getting it passed,” Trump tweeted.

Teigen’s response trended across the platform; bemused and adoring press coverage ensued.

“Donald Trump brought a knife to a social media gunfight and came off looking weak,” opined NBC News — “and at the hands of a woman of color to boot.”

Teigen wasn’t a johnny-come-lately in her trolling of Trump, though. She’d been keeping him apprised of her general disdain for him for years before he took office, and strikingly, she did so in the same way she kept letting Stodden know she hated them. She seems to have held both Trump and Stodden in the same category in her mind, and she tended to use the same tactics on them both.

“hey! been a while,” Teigen tweeted at Trump out of the blue in 2012. “I fucking hate you.”

There is of course a difference between tweeting mean things to the president of the United States and tweeting mean things to a 16-year-old. There is also a difference between tweeting mean things to Donald Trump in 2012, when he was just a racist billionaire in his 60s and held no public office, and tweeting them to a 16-year-old. But that difference seems to have been hard for Teigen to see in 2012.

The Chrissy Teigen backlash has been building for years

Chrissy Teigen and John Legend at the 2014 Met Gala.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

A backlash against Teigen has been mounting for a while now. No one can be declared “the internet’s funniest (and frankest) person” without courting overexposure. Moreover, Teigen’s status as one of Trump’s most vocal celebrity critics has made her a favorite target of the right-wing spectrum of the internet. (She’s been extensively harassed by QAnon followers.) So hisses of incipient anger have been brewing around her every post for years.

In 2017, the popular celebrity gossip blogger Nicki Swift put together a video called “Shady Things About Chrissy Teigen Everyone Just Ignores.” Many of the offenses listed in the video are fairly benign, like Teigen’s tendency to discuss her and her husband’s sex life in more detail than a lot of other celebs would offer. But some of them tellingly foreshadowed the tweets to Stodden that would resurface in 2021: Teigen calling then-22-year-old Teen Mom star Farrah Abraham “a whore” who “everyone hates” in 2013; Teigen writing of then-9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis in 2013, “i am forced to like quvenzhané wallis because she is a child right? okay fine.”

In October of 2020, the Chrissy Teigen backlash began to simmer. That month, Teigen suffered a stillbirth, one she announced publicly with black-and-white photos of herself in the throes of grief. Some onlookers jeered at the photos, arguing that they reduced a personal tragedy to a tacky bid for attention. “Chrissy Teigen is so distraught over her miscarriage that she took the time to pose for a photo of herself crying, in black and white for dramatic effect, then shared that photo with the world along with her words. Stop it,” said one commenter.

A counter-backlash eventually emerged in that case, with multiple outlets arguing that taking photographs can be an essential part of the grieving process for the parents of stillborn children and that Teigen’s public vulnerability could lessen the stigma surrounding pregnancy loss. Teigen herself turned the whole incident into the fodder for a raw and vulnerable Medium post later that month.

“I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos,” Teigen wrote. “How little I care that it’s something you wouldn’t have done. I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. The thoughts of others do not matter to me.”

The backlash died down, but it hadn’t been fully averted. In February 2021, Teigen started a Twitter prompt thread on an apparently anodyne subject — “what’s the most expensive thing you’ve eaten that you thought sucked?” — and paired it with a jokey anecdote about having once accidentally ordered a $13,000 bottle of wine. Her followers erupted into an eat-the-rich fury.

“I don’t think I have ever had 13 thousand dollars at one time, but great story Chrissy!” wrote one.

“is someone forcing you to tell the world these things,” tweeted another.

“Chrissy Teigen” began trending worldwide on Twitter, signifying that Teigen had become that day’s main character. “worst nightmare,” Teigen tweeted in response.

People were starting to get bored with Teigen, and it sure seemed like many of them were looking for any excuse to turn on her. Teigen was too savvy to the ways of the internet not to see it coming. In 2019, she told Vanity Fair she’d turned down an offer to host “a high-profile nighttime talk show” for fear of overexposure.

“It was just too much attention and focus on me,” she said. “It’s almost like the more things you do, the closer you are to getting canceled. It’s so scary to me — to have the world turn on you and hate you.”

Teigen is well aware of how cancellation works on Twitter. In 2020, she was central to the cancellation of food writer Alison Roman, who lost her New York Times column and (Teigen-produced) cooking show after criticizing Teigen and Marie Kondo in an interview for “selling out” with their product lines. Teigen publicly announced her hurt feelings, and the Alison Roman backlash took off.

In that case, Teigen accepted Roman’s apology and made a point of noting that she didn’t support the swarms of her followers who had attacked Roman. She added that she identified with Roman.

“I remember the exact time I realized I wasn’t allowed to say whatever popped in my head-that I couldn’t just say things in the way that so many of my friends were saying,” Teigen tweeted. “Before, I never really knew where I stood in the industry, in the world. Eventually, I realized that once the relatable ‘snarky girl who didn’t care’ became a pretty successful cookbook author and had more power in the industry, I couldn’t just say whatever the fuck I wanted. The more we grow, the more we get those wakeup calls.”

So Teigen could see her cancellation coming. But it wasn’t until May 2021, when Stodden revealed how Teigen had bullied them, and it became clear that Teigen had done something genuinely horrible and not just a little cringey, that her cancellation truly arrived.

The targets of Teigen’s Twitter bullying were all people who the pop culture of the 2000s treated as acceptable targets

Courtney Stodden at the Hollywood Museum on December 5, 2019, in Hollywood, California.
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

In the wake of Stodden’s video post, news outlets have unearthed other old Teigen tweets that, it is now clear, were in dismayingly bad taste. “Lindsay adds a few more slits to her wrists when she sees emma stone,” Teigen tweeted in 2011 of Lindsay Lohan, who has admitted to struggling with self-harm. Those Farrah Abraham tweets from 2013 that made the rounds in Nicki Swift’s 2017 video are now circulating again.

Teigen’s reputation-damaging tweets all share a certain essential DNA. They are all tweets mocking girls and femmes whom the pop culture of the late ’00s and early ’10s had made it clear were fair game for mockery: people who read as girls (Stodden did not come out as nonbinary until 2021), and whom the culture at large considered to be too trashy, too slutty, too showy. Girly, but not in the right way. (Not that there was a right way.)

What Teigen said on Twitter about and to those people was genuinely horrible, and it is clear that she targeted them because pop culture had given her permission to do so. Even outlets like Jezebel, “a supposedly feminist website,” were mocking Stodden in 2012. Doing so was part of the snarky ethos that defined Jezebel and its more famous cousin, Gawker.

So in the early ’10s, these tweets didn’t hurt Teigen. Instead, they were part of what made her seem real and funny. Then, as now, Twitter rewarded cruelty, as long as it was directed at those the in-group considered to be “the right people.” But then, unlike now, “the right people” could include teenagers trapped in abusive relationships with adults.

The attributes on display in the tweets that have led to Teigen’s downfall appear to be some of the same attributes that made Teigen so widely beloved for so long: her lack of filter, her love of roasting people widely agreed at the time to be terrible. What’s changed is that now, it’s clear that the way she wielded them was fundamentally misdirected.

Our great reckoning with how we talk about women and femmes over the course of the Me Too decade has changed the way Twitter works. And in the process, it’s bringing down the woman who used to rule it.

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