Bikini-clad, pensive, pouty, immaculately and strategically positioned, perfectly filtered images made up Essena O’Neill’s Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr accounts. But today the 19-year-old Queensland teen has come out condemning the negative influence of our ‘manufactured’ social media.
Much to the surprise of her half a million followers on Instagram, as well as 200,000 followers on YouTube and Tumblr, Essena O’Neill has come out blasting these social media platforms on which she made her name, and probably most of her small fortune.
On Tuesday the Queensland glamazon abruptly changed her Instagram name to “Social Media Is Not Real Life” and deleted 2000 photos from her account.
“Now marks the day I quit all social media and focus on real life projects,” she captioned a recent photo.
“Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real,” she wrote. “It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement.”
The Coolum woman then explained in her further posts that all of her fame on social media was a means of escaping the dissatisfaction and insecurities that she had with her own self-worth and image.
Her new blog, Let’s Be Game Changers, further explores the contrived nature of her social media accounts, and how they had created a false sense of worth for her.
“At 12, I thought I was ugly, too tall, weird, lonely, unpopular and that I could never be of value,” she explained.
“I told myself, if I got heaps of views on Youtube, I would then be happy, feel like enough… So let this be very clear, I’m quitting social media for my 12 year old self.”
O’Neill’s Instagram also documents her regrets at wasting her younger years on superficial nothings, rather than her self-development.
“Oh 15-year-old Essena I just want to hug you and tell you how much more free time you would have had if you didn’t care about your appearance, social media, what others thought. You probably would have pursued writing, or something real to you,” she said.
“I wish someone would have shook me and said ‘You have so much more in you than your sexuality’…
“I only realised at 19 that placing any amount of self worth on your physical form is so limiting! I could have been writing, exploring, playing, anything beautiful and real… Not trying to validate my worth through a bikini shot with no substance.”
“I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational,” she says. “It’s contrived perfection made to get attention,” she said.
UPDATE: In a second video posted to her website, Essena has said she is now struggling to make ends meet after abandoning her “whole career built around social media”.
“What I’m doing scares the absolute f**k out of me. I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I have no idea how I’m going to make money.
“I can’t afford rend right now. It’s like I’m embarrassed to admit that I need help… if you like my videos or like any of my posts or you like this website, if this is of value to you, then yeah, please support me because I can’t afford my own real life.
“It’s like I’m embarrassed to say, ‘Hey, I’d rather you support what I’m doing by you paying what you think it’s worth to you. It’s like that’s embarrassing or wrong, but promoting endless products, getting cheap views on YouTube… or using my looks for money, then that’s OK? But actually just making a new thing… if you think that’s cool, support me.”
Essena’s intentions have been questioned by some, including Dr Lauren Rosewarne, an expert in sexuality from Melbourne University, who told the ABC that the model is “finding ways to milk a second set of attention from her already-posted photos by rebranding herself as somehow reformed and body-positive.
“This doesn’t negate the message but nor does it come across as totally spontaneous.”
What do you think of Essena’s new direction? Do you think she’s sincere, or is it just another ploy for attention? Have your say in the comments below!