Essena O’Neil: Giving It All Up

“82 percent of women feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic.” – study conducted by Dove, 2004.
Over recent years, social media has to some extent become a tool to measure a person’s popularity, or effect that they have on online communities. People are constantly comparing their lives to their fellow friends. As acquaintances constantly post and share latest accomplishments, special trips, newest valuables, and the like, it’s easy to compare your life to theirs. And with the newest camera and filter apps, it’s a lot easier to become obsessed with comparing your appearance to the one on your phone screen.

A big story circulating in the media this week is that of Essena O’Neill, an 18-year-old Instagram and YouTube star from Australia who recently shook the internet with her announcement to “quit social media.” O’Neill has over 612,000 followers on Instagram and over 250,000 subscribers on YouTube, and for a while it seemed like her life was perfect. However, she admits that she could not have been more miserable.

968full-essena-o'neillO’Neill claims that “having it all on social media has absolutely nothing to do with real life.” From the time that she was a young teenager, she became obsessed with her looks and what people thought of her. Her posts consisted of near-perfect selfies, promotions for different products, shots of her body labeled “fitspo,” and multiple seemingly candid shots as well. She did a complete overhaul of her Instagram, deleting over 2,000 photos that she claims “served no real purpose other than self-promotion.” On the remaining photos, she changed the caption to encompass the true meaning behind the photos; for example, this seemingly candid shot initially captioned “are getting pretty wild at my house. Maths B and English in the sun”:
[IG link:] This is the new, edited caption: “see how relatable my captions were [sic] stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”

After making her announcement, O’Neill posted a video on her YouTube account (which is now deactivated), explaining her rise to internet fame, the sponsorships that became her income, the calorie counting and excessive exercising, and the need for “likes” and validation from the thousands of people that eventually became an addiction. While her followers were under the impression that her life was perfect, she was really lonely, empty, and miserable. Her message to all of her followers and the rest of the people around the world is that it’s easy to become absorbed by this false sense of self-worth that comes from social media.

There are a ton of young women out there that have the same struggle as Essena. Perhaps we all don’t get gigs from modeling agencies or have companies asking us to promote them, but there is constant pressure that stems from social media today. Perfect smiles and beachy captions plague us every day, often times making us feel that we have to live up to these artificial views of reality. Some of us get sucked into it. Some people (like me) just join the #UglyGang or #AightGang and call it a day. And yet most still feel to some extent let down by it all. Instead, O’Neill suggests that we detach ourselves from social media, and go after things that we’re passionate about. She admitted that there were many things that she grew up passionate about, like the environment and spirituality. However, she suppressed it because she felt it wasn’t “Insta-worthy.” She decided that now she just wanted to live for herself.

Essena lets us know that we are more than the social media frenzy: “Don’t let numbers define you. 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. I was born into the flesh I have, there is nothing inspirational about that.”

To learn more about Essena’s story or follow her movement, you may visit her new website:


By: Chynnah Tomlin

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