Instagram star Essena O’Neill quits social media and tells the truth about her supposedly 'perfect life'

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Tuesday 03 November 2015 10:40
Science and Tech

An 18-year-old Instagram star has quit online fame and slammed the door on her way out by telling the truth about how much work she put into creating the illusion of social media perfection.

Essena O'Neill, from Queensland, Australia, has almost one million followers combined from her various Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter and Tumblr accounts, and was making a decent income from advertising clothes and beauty products to her fans.

But the experience left her feeling "hollow", she said.

Without realising, I've spent majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance.

Social media, especially how I used it, isn't real. It's a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It's perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement.

In an emotional 17-minute long video, Essena explains she has quit YouTube for good because she doesn't want to support a site that she "doesn't agree with" and makes billions from advertising.


She's also deleted thousands of Instagram pictures, and recaptioned those that remain with blisteringly honest insights into how the pictures were created.

Next to this shot of her posing in two different dresses, Essena wrote:

Standing there and looking pretty is what I once aspired to do as a young girl. In our society if you're pretty people give you attention. So I made my appearance my worth.

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A bikini shot was recaptioned so Essena could tell her followers she had to take over 100 in similar poses to make her stomach "look good":

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In the quitting video, Essenna said she found herself spending up to 50 hours a week on social media, relying on likes and comments to give her a sense of validation.

I was attracted to the idea of being liked and of value. I put my value in numbers, not real life people, moments or my natural passions of art, writing...

Posting on instagram consumed me. I can't you how beautiful life is without a phone, without social media, without comparing, or likes or followers... I have never felt so free.

Essena isn't quite giving up her public voice, though. She's set up a website called LetsBeGameChangers to fight against what she calls the "cult of social media" by directing the conversation towards topics such as gender equality, climate change and food sustainability.

Most of all, Essena writes, she wants to let younger girls know that the images they see on social media aren't aspirational.

There is nothing cool about spending all your time taking edited pictures of yourself to prove to the world 'you are enough'. Don't let anyone tell you you're not enough without excessive makeup, latest trends, 100+ likes on a photo, 'a bikini body', thigh gap, long blonde hair...

When you stop comparing and viewing yourself against others, you start to see your own spark and individuality.

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