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Why The Backlash On Instagram Star Essena O'Neill Misses The Bigger Picture on Social Media

We live in a world where people are catapulted to stardom for “doing nothing,” and Essena is on journey to be more than just a pretty face...

Life & Travel

If we remove the filters from our pictures, do without the skin-smoothing apps, and untag the designers that dress our appearance up on Instagram, what would be left and who would we see?

For many of us, social media provides audiences with an illusion of what life is like. Throw on a smile and find a caption-worthy lyric to pizzazz the images and voila! We have what appears to be a happy, fulfilled individual, free of flaws and living a life of perfection–or so we think.


I’m sure for many of you reading, this movement of hearts and likes has brought about a new, unhealthy wave of validation, with many of us living dual lives, on and off the screen. But what happens when the same person who is looked at as the influencer feels insignificant because of a façade? Social media is the new makeup line on the market and some of us are trying to remove what you think you see.

Up until this week, Essena O’Neill was a 19-year-old Aussie with a colossal following of 500,000 on Instagram, 200,000 on YouTube and 60,000 on SnapChat. That's until she woke up one day and decided to unveil the facade she was selling her followers. Spilling the beans on the real behind her most liked photos, and even deleting a few that didn’t mirror who she was off the web, O’Neill stunned thousands when she decided it was time to live more authentically. Her messages have been one of building a dedicated following and yet finding yourself lost in the masses.

Want the story? It's simple. I spent 12-16 [hours a day] wishing I could receive validation from numbers on a screen. I spent majority of my teen years being self absorbed, trying desperately to please others and feel 'enough'.  Spent 16-19[hours a day] editing myself and life to be that beautiful, fitspo, positive, bright girl online. I didn't talk about topics and interests of me, nor did I pursue my childhood talent for writing. I didn't find happiness in social approval, constantly edited and shooting my life. So I decided to quit [and left] educational captions meant to raise awareness, now I want to start something important. 

Noted as an Insta-celeb, the teen gave new meaning to the term "behind-the-scenes" when she made the decision to rename her Instagram account, Social Media Is Not Real Life. Shedding light on popular pics–like the one where she amassed 30,000 likes for simply showing off her same frame and a white dress–Essena O’Neill did something courageous when she edited previous captions to reflect her honest thoughts on each photo. In the aforementioned post, O’Neill revealed that she didn’t even pay for the dress and unnecessarily took numerous photos to get the right shot, feeling empty in the end.

Other edited captions unveiled how much she got paid to promote items and called for followers to evaluate just what we consider #goals, when we don’t know the intentions of doing so.

 

“Took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals.”

“Edit:  I put on makeup, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewelry...Took over 50 shots until I got one I thought you might like. Then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps just so I could feel some social approval from you." THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS. #celebrityconstruct

One heartbreaking post delves into what many mainstream supermodels have to go through, like not eating in order to maintain a flawless look in shoots, and the pressures of trying to paint life as utopia.  Essena also described her life as a photo shoot every day, to paint a perfect picture for her followers–Welcome to the life of some of your favorite IG models. 

Without realizing, 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 use it, isn't real. It is a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It's perfectly orchestrated, self-absorbed judgement.

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

It’s through the personal revelations and honesty in her revamped move that spawned a her new site, Let’s Be Game Changers. Her aim is powerful and to go from promoting major brands, to messages that need to be heard and heeded to, O’Neill is doing something bigger than what she did before.

“...Why aren't we seeing rapid positive changes? Why isn't our youth waking up each day with a sense of undeniable empowerment to help the world or even a slight interest in global issues? It's simple, it's because we are stuck living in distractions.  A 2D world. An addiction to screen life. We believe and obsess over contrived ideas, images and personalities. We live in a celebrity obsessed culture. We walk out into a shopping mall, watch a movie, turn on the TV, search the most popular people on YouTube, and what do we see? We see luxurious living, genetically blessed people, we see new clothes, sexy workout wear, tight abs, toned thighs, perfectly styled hair, painted masks, spray painted bodies. We don't see real life. This celebrity culture based largely on aesthetics has taken over our own individual lives. We talk about these people like we know them, when in reality we know next to nothing about them, their fears, their dreams, their regrets. We put them on a pedestal and enjoy throwing rocks. We like watching them struggle, we mock them, humour ourselves... yet in the same breathe we complain about how we aren't up there with them.”

It is through the thousands of comments of women wanting to be like her that she felt the need to free herself of the suffocating and increasing demand to actively share on social media. The things we give light to and endorse on our pages is one we should check ourselves on from time to time. I, for one, have been swallowed by the need to always be on Twitter, averaging over 10 hours a day last year and forgetting about what matters most in reality. For me, it wasn’t a subconscious need for approval from others, but the desire to build a brand even at the cost of losing human connection. But for millions of men and women, retweets are endorsements, likes are signs of love, and faves are signifiers of validation. O’Neill opens a door where she lets it be known that these aren’t similar sentiments for those in the spotlight. She also highlights a major factor in her success–her skin color.

[Tweet "Retweets are not endorsements and faves are not signifiers of validation"]

“Before I made myself well-known, I studied it relentlessly. My parents argue I would have spent at least 50 hours a week at this so-called hobby...My success was largely in the hands of my white privilege and genetics. I was thin, tanned, toned, blonde, with a big smile and a push-up bra.”

We live in a world where people are catapulted to stardom for “doing nothing,” and Essena is on journey to be more than just a pretty face, citing some of her photos have no substance. What message are we portraying?

For others, Essena O'Neill's recent message isn't resonating and is coated in fraudulence. A family of YouTubers–Nina, Randa, and Willie–have vocalized their thoughts on the Aussie's revelation on Insta-celebs. In their videos, “Essena O'Neill Quitting Social Media Is A Hoax” and “Essena O'Neill Is Fake,” the pair and their brother paint a picture of O'Neill as a liar and says she's doing it all for publicity. And in true social media fashion, others have followed suit, weighing in on how they don't believe any of it, seeing that she's now asking for donations to help pay rent.

Essena's response to the recent and unfortunate backlash was, “I wish they would have come to me personally, not share intimate details of my life. But this is my exact point about social media. People say gossip and rumors to avoid the real problems.” Bingo.

 

Photo source: Cosmopolitan

She was also slammed by many who built their careers off of social media, including the CEO of a company called Rise9, which specializes in helping young people and businesses build their following. In a scathing Facebook post, he wrote:

Essena O’Neill is wrong; Social Media isn't a lie.

Social Media can be whatever the user desires it to be. Allowing yourself to become pressured into a false life that you're uncomfortable with is the result of your own actions and intent. The inability to define yourself, your life, your own sense of confidence comes from a lack of trying to understand yourself.

Blaming Social Media, calling it a lie, further shows your lack of attempt to understand yourself. Yes, deleting your Social Media is a step in the right direction. Disowning personal responsibility for your own happiness and shifting the blame is a step backwards.

[...]You decide to take money for a dress? That's your choice. You decide to spend hours taking the right photo? That's your choice. You decide to live a life that you feel is a lie? That is absolutely your choice.

Deciding to use Social Media as a tool to tell people Social Media is a lie contradicts that very same notion. Social Media is there to be used for the truth or for the lies. Essena O'Neil needs to find real help instead of redirecting personal responsibility towards mankind's greatest communication tool. I truly hope you do, because Social Media isn't a lie, you were the lie.

Maybe we'll find out if this is all just come big scheme to get more followers as some are arguing (but I can't see how since she's deleted all of her social media accounts including Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat). Maybe others will fall in line and realize that what she said is what's actually important. She could be doing it for the Vine or doing it for numbers, but it won't take away from the validity behind her viral messages these last few days–social media is a craze that manipulates a lot of people's minds. But folks won't admit or double tap that.

Her message echoes one that a lot of us preach–positivity and living in our truths. It’s easy to like fantasies, but are we loving our realities? “I want to create a site with a community sense of collaboration and desire to help action change; this heavily involves individuals submitting their own game-changing work and ideas, for all of us to share and learn.”

[Tweet "It’s easy to "like" fantasies, but are we loving our realities?"]

Be the change you want to see. There are enough beautiful lies being double tapped.

Why I think social media sucks from Essena O'Neill on Vimeo.

Share your thoughts with me and the xoTeam in the comment section below! Was Instagram star, Essena O'Neill's social media makeover necessary?

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