Deep within the extremely regular bowels of the vegan internet, there is an Australian YouTube personality by the name of Freelee the Banana Girl. Freelee eats 51 bananas a day, and she does not fuck around. Freelee is causing so much drama, you would not even believe!
On Wednesday, Elizabeth Ribar of XOJane.com, who describes herself as “a Millennial living in the digital age (who also happens to be vegan),” published a deeply personal account of this controversy. “As a vegan, I feel sick seeing so much hate being promoted in my community,” Ribar writes.
Immediately, I have questions: Why is a person named Freelee? What has Freelee done? What does it “mean” to be vegan, and why are Freelee and her crew the “antithesis” of whatever that thing is? Wouldn’t the antithesis of being vegan involve meat and dairy? Why does any of this matter, at all, to anyone?
Regardless of the answer to that last question, I explored. Elizabeth Ribar became aware of Freelee’s activities when she saw one of Freelee’s videos criticizing one of her favorite YouTubers, Cassey Ho of Blogilates. Freelee has evidently been talking smack about Cassey for a strong 8 months, ever since posting a video about Cassey and others called “YouTubers who promote eating disorders.” Starting shit is apparently something of a hobby for Freelee—a large chunk of her videos parody, rib, or otherwise call out other vloggers, igniting a literally never-ending cascade of angry response videos and response-to-response videos, which then contribute many clicks to everyone’s respective YouTube channels. Early last year, according to Ribar, Freelee also accused Australian Instagram trainer Kayla Itsines of promoting eating disorders; Itsines and her boyfriend sued Freelee, who was forced to take down the disparaging videos. Yikes!
Freelee is also currently beefing ;) with 17-year-old YouTube star Tana Mongeau (Freelee is in her mid-thirties). The hostility evidently began when Freelee posted a critical video about Tana’s video “How I Stay Skinny”; Tana had spoken about “bored eating,” or eating when you aren’t hungry, which Freelee said was not a thing. This argument between two vloggers about the correct way to stay skinny snowballed into an all-out feud that has expanded to include other vegans, such as an individual by the name of Sorsha, who was extremely offended by Tana’s critique of Freelee. Tana, for her part, has recently started the hashtag #tanachallengesfreelee.
Like you, I am just barely, barely following this, but let’s continue anyway.
Freelee, as we have established, is a vlogger who loves drama. The video of hers that XOJane points to appears to begin mid-sentence, which did not prevent it from acquiring over 300,000 views. In it, Freelee, from behind some kind of giant pillow, says that Cassey “refuses to retract her legal claims” against Freelee, which Cassey hinted on Twitter were never made. Freelee thanks her supporters, calls Cassey “a big bully,” and watches a supportive YouTube video from within her own YouTube video:
The video she’s watching, called “The Vegan Community’s Message to Freelee,” involves various YouTubers in the vegan community rallying together in support of Freelee in an attempt to unite the vegan community, protect free speech, and promote bananas.
“Freelee, you’ve helped change the lives of so many people,” says an intense young man called The Vegan Activist in the video, over the soft strains of a mournful piano ballad. “And you’ve helped save so many animals. It’s so sad that there are people out there who want to stop you from speaking the truth. But there’s always some good to take out of every bad situation. Over the last week, there have been thousands and thousands of people sharing bananas all over social media.”
Freelee, whose real name is Leanne Ratcliffe, was featured on Gawker several years ago when she posted a video blaming obese people for 9/11 deaths (by getting stuck on the stairs and preventing “fit people from getting through and surviving”); in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast about her “30 bananas a day” diet, she admitted to coming from an eating disorder background and yet claimed that the biggest risk of eating 30 bananas a day “is you will become a superhero and suddenly find it very hard to fit in with mainstream society.” Freelee has also come out against chemotherapy. Her latest video is titled “SERIOUS Pedophilia allegations against my boyfriend.”
Trust me when I say that I am just barely brushing the surface of this. The vegan vlogosphere is apparently a hotbed of indirect confrontation—if you’ll recall, back in November our good friends Nina and Randa had many choice words for fellow YouTube influencer Essena O’Neill after the latter criticized social media. Relatedly, I have been unable to discern why so many vegan YouTubers are from Australia.
In her XOJane post, Ribar helpfully defines bullying, which is evidently something that happens to vegans and non-vegans alike:
Merriam-Webster defines the verb bullying “to frighten, hurt, or threaten” and “to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using force.” Not only is Freelee is a dictionary-defined bully, she also has a history of bullying non-vegans.
The article ends with an absolute bang: “If we engage with a hater, we can potentially make things worse. So how do we deal with online harassment? Unfortunately, for now, there’s no clear answer.”
Image via screenshot/YouTube.