Essena O’Neil, a 19-year old social media celebrity has turned her back on the life that she says was a lie, and explained to her legion of followers that ‘’there is nothing cool about about spending all your time taking edited pictures of yourself to prove to the world ‘you are enough’.
The young Australian has spent the past few years amassing a massive following. She has 570 000+ followers on Instagram, 250 000+ subscribes on YouTube, 250 000+ on tumblr and 60 000+ average views on Snapchat and a solid income from companies looking to reach out to her audience. She parlayed all this attention into a lucrative modelling contract as well.
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Then on 27 October, she turned her back on them all, cancelling her accounts and dramatically deleting over 2 000 pictures on Instagram. The pictures left behind on her Instagram feed have all the captions edited to show how fake and constructed her perfect life was. For example, a beautiful shot of her in a bikini is accompanied with the caption: “and yet another photo taken purely to promote my 16 year old body. This was my whole identity. That was so limiting. Made me incredibly insecure. You have no idea.”
At the same time as quitting social media, O’Neil has thrown herself into her new site letsbegamechangers.com, and writes expansively about her world view:
“In a world supposedly more connected than ever before – why aren’t we seeing rapid positive changes? Why isn’t our youth waking up each day with a sense of undeniable empowerment to help the world or even a slight interest in global issues?
It’s simple, it’s because we are stuck living in distractions. A 2D world. An addiction to screen life. We believe and obsess over contrived ideas, images and personalities. We live in a celebrity obsessed culture. We walk out into a shopping mall, watch a movie, turn on the TV, search the most popular people on YouTube, and what do we see? We see luxurious living, genetically blessed people, we see new clothes, sexy workout wear, tight abs, toned thighs, perfectly styled hair, painted masks, spray painted bodies. We don’t see real life.”
Take a look at this passionate video where she explains how fake her life had become.
In a nutshell, she explains how she found herself “drowning in the illusion. Social media isn’t real. It’s purely contrived mages and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes and dislikes, validation in views, success in followers… it’s perfectly orchestrated judgement. And it consumed me.”
Ironically, her bold move seems to be making her more popular than ever. She’s been overwhelmed with positive media attention, invitations to go on shows to talk about her perspective and, as she shows in her new video, she’s been utterly bowled over by the outpouring of love she has received.
The Guardian newspaper reports that there is already a backlash against what she is doing, with people likely to claim that it’s just a new way of claiming attention but in a world where young teenagers are seduced by what they see as a real world edited and packaged into a glamorous package, it takes a brave soul to expose the artifice behind it all and portray herself for who she really is.