Essena O'Neill had half a million followers and made an income off her posts. She boldly quit the platform last week to bring attention to problems spawned from social media.
From fashion bloggers to fitness experts to simply photogenic everyday citizens, the 'Instagram celebrity' has emerged as a new branch of fame in our social media-run world. Essena O'Neill, an 18-year-old from Australia, was a regular teen who amassed half a million followers on Instagram (on top of 200,000 followers on YouTube and Tumblr and 60,000 on her Snapchat, all now inactive) with selfies, outfit posts, and #fitspo photos.
After building that up, she decided last week that she was done with social media. She deleted 2000 photos, renamed her account to 'Social Media Is Not Real Life,' and changed the captions on existing photos with truthful anecdotes about posts she was paid for, how many tries it took to get the shot, and the pressures she felt to look perfect.
Via Instagram @essenaoneill and YouTube
'I've spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance,' O'Neill writes in her last Instagram post on October 27, '[Social media] is 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.'
'How can we see ourselves and our true purpose/talents if we are constantly viewing others?' she says, 'Many of us are in so deep we don't realize [social media's] delusional powers and the impact it has on our lives.' In addition to making changes on her Instagram, O'Neill made a video on YouTube about how people make money off social media. She's since moved on from YouTube to Vimeo, where she'll now be uploading daily videos, because of its 'positive and value based ranking, not likes or followers or BS ads.' O'Neill adds on her newly launched site Let's Be Game Changers, 'BUT PLEASE CAN SOMEONE MAKE A SOCIAL SHARING PLATFORM NOT BASED ON VALIDATION IN VIEWS/FOLLOWERS/LIKES BUT SHARED FOR REAL VALUE AND LOVE. THANK YOU. PLEASE HURRY UP.'
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O'Neill's enlightenment is captivating and thought-provoking. While the millions of dollars earned by social media stars is not news (surely you've seen those #spon and #ad posts on your feed), this teen is not only being transparent about her responsibility in perpetuating the image-crafting obsession, but turning a mirror to her followers, too. 'I can't tell you how free I feel without social media. Never again will I let a number define me. IT SUFFOCATED ME,' she writes, 'I know you didn't come into this world just wanting to fit in and get by. You are reading this now because you are a game changer, you might not know your power yet I am just finding mine, but man...when you do...far out you'll go crazy. It'll be brilliant. You'll be brilliant.'
Instagram fitness star Kayla Itsines shared a response about this social media movement to her nearly 4 million followers. She echoes O'Neill's sentiments, writing, 'On my account, I'll tell you now, you don't see a lot of things. Not because I don't want to show you, because I cannot physically take a photo of them,' she says, 'Things like...the 5am wake ups, the late nights, the constant bullying, the lack of support and understanding of friends, the stress...and so much more.' Read her full statement below.
Words: Kristina Rodulfo