Insta Model Essena O’Neill Quit Social Media and Made It Better
You may have heard of Essena O’Neill, either from the past few years when she was posting bikini pics on Instagram or from recently when she went viral for re-captioning those same photos. O’Neill’s captions pointed out that she was as young as 15, getting likes for looking provocative. She pointed out how strict she was with her diet and exercise regime, so that she could look good for photos. She explained how candid shots were painstakingly staged, how many shots it took for the perfect pose, and how she advertised for brands that she didn’t care about.
The biggest problem that her captions brought attention to was that she based her entire identity on social media. She was obsessed and in constant need of validation through the likes and follows of strangers. The high would last for a little bit, and she would return to wanting more attention. She was miserable.
O’Neill described her problem on her new website: “I was a living paradox of conditional self-love and constant self-hate. What do I mean by conditional self-love? I liked myself based on how tight and toned my body was, how pretty my hair and makeup was, how hot the guy I was talking to was, how happy I looked in photos, how many people liked my photos… my whole idea of self worth revolved around my appearance and my social media status.”
She also made a tearful Youtube video, saying that the famous people behind Instagram and other social media platforms carry on the same illusion from behind the screen. These statements have gotten her a lot of backlash - not that she will be too affected by it, since she has sworn off social media and only updates her new website. Instead of seeing O’Neill’s actions as an emotional breakdown by someone who’s realized that she’s built her self-esteem on the clicks of strangers, social media stars are taking it as a personal attack.
Some have responded by posting Instagram photos declaring they’re absolutely not fake, that they would never advertise for brands they wouldn’t use, and that social media isn’t evil. Youtube stars have posted videos also proving their authenticity, while trying to brush off O’Neill’s experience as a special one-time only thing. Sisters Nina and Randa Nelson posted a ridiculously long video trying to discredit O’Neill, calling her outcry a hoax.
These stars are doing damage control for a problem that was never theirs to begin with. They might as well come up with a new hashtag: #notallyoutubers, #notallinstagrammers, #notallpeoplewhoprofitovertheirsocialmediaplatforms. Everyone knows that social media isn’t evil. It’s not like Satan is telling you to browse through your ex-boyfriend’s vacation album to remind you that his new girlfriend looks better in a bathingsuit than you. Social media, like junk food and blue eyeshadow, is best in moderation. Swearing off of it forever won’t really solve the root of her self-esteem issues, but it might help her deal for now.
O’Neill’s catching slack for coming off as dramatic, hypocritical, and naive for her claims against social media. I have to admit, at times I rolled my eyes and muttered “Youths” at her grandiose statements. Social media is bad - we should go out into nature and all be friends!
But, O’Neill deserves credit. She gave everyone a behind-the-scenes look at an Instagram celebrity. We’ve done this with other forms of media: pointing out photoshop for magazine shoots and lipsyncing for concerts. I can’t be consumed with jealousy over models in ads having perfect skin, because I know makeup and computers make them poreless goddesses. This type of information helps up see behind the valencia-filtered curtain, so that we can comfort ourselves a little more. We aren’t falling for the magic tricks if we already know how they work.
O’Neill’s confessions can help people without requiring them to abandon social media. As long as you’re in the know, you’ll be good. In the wise words of Missy Elliot: “Ain’t no shame, ladies do your thang, just make sure you’re ahead of the game.”
I know she was talking about strippers, but it kind of works here.