Teigen was propelled to online stardom in the early 2010s, when social media was even more of a lawless land and her devil-may-care brand of tweeting fit right in. GQ described her feed at the time as “highgrade funny, third-drink unhinged,” as written proof of her “assault of awesomeness.” The main appeal, the article suggested, stemmed from the fact that a gorgeous model ate Klondike bars and spewed vulgarities just like everyone else. She had amassed nearly 500,000 Twitter followers by 2014, a number that has since reached 13.5 million. In recent years, Teigen’s relatability has grown to encompass more meaningful discussions of her postpartum depression and pregnancy loss.
Regardless of whatever strides Teigen has made as a person, her old posts still live on the Internet. And that unfiltered persona — which still exists, though to a lesser degree — is the one landing Teigen in hot water now, in a world much better acquainted with the implications of life online.
In mid-May, Teigen described her former self as an “insecure, attention seeking troll” and stayed off Twitter for about a month — an action spurred by comments from Courtney Stodden, the television personality who at age 16 married the 51-year-old acting coach Doug Hutchinson. Stodden, who uses they/them pronouns, has since divorced Hutchinson and described him as “extremely abusive,” but faced widespread ridicule when the couple wed a decade ago. They recently shared on Instagram — and again in a Daily Beast interview — that Teigen had joined in at the time, tweeting at them to take a “dirt nap” and, per Stodden, telling the teenager in private messages to kill themselves.
From a modern perspective, Teigen’s behavior goes far beyond the edgy brand she cultivated and that was widely embraced by other Twitter users. Many would argue that the behavior was also unacceptable in 2011 (the same year she joked about Lindsay Lohan harming herself after seeing Emma Stone). And yet Teigen’s star continued to rise. GQ published its praise in 2013 (when Teigen also referred to 9-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis as “cocky”). In 2014, she told Esquire she was “much nicer in person than on Twitter.”
Social media could be especially deceptive in its earliest days, when the novel websites seemed to present an even playing field for all to log on to and wreak havoc. But the workings of fame and privilege transcend in-person interactions. Punching down is exactly that, no matter the platform.
Teigen apologized to Stodden and the public before taking a Twitter break, and returned Monday to share a Medium post about her “VERY humbling few weeks.” She wrote that she joined social media as a way to joke and connect with people all over the world, but that “in reality, I was insecure, immature and in a world where I thought I needed to impress strangers to be accepted.”
“If there was a pop culture pile-on,” Teigen continued, “I took to Twitter to try to gain attention and show off what I at the time believed was a crude, clever, harmless quip.”
Since Stodden spoke up, a few others, including “Project Runway” designer Michael Costello and former “Teen Mom” star Farrah Abraham, have come forward with their own stories of Teigen’s bullying. Though Teigen hasn’t responded to them publicly, her Medium post includes a blanket apology to “others — and more than just a few — who I need to say I’m sorry to.”
The tide seems to be turning on Teigen’s past behavior and, though the link hasn’t been made explicit, her entertainment career and brand partnerships seem to have taken a hit. (Interestingly, Teigen was on the other end of an online controversy last summer with fellow cookbook author Alison Roman, who was placed on leave from her New York Times column after she was criticized for suggesting Teigen and organization guru Marie Kondo had sold out.)
Teigen seemed to refer to the building backlash against her old tweets in the Medium post.
“Life has made me more empathetic,” she wrote. “I’m more understanding of what motivates trolling — the instant gratification that you get from lashing out and clapping back, throwing rocks at someone you think is invincible because they’re famous. Also, I know now how it feels to be on the receiving end of incredible vitriol. Believe me, the irony of this is not lost on me.”
Among these lessons might arise another: It’s more than okay to just log off.