Instagram star with half a million followers quits ‘unhealthy’ social media saying it's ‘not real life’

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Harriet Hall
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Until recently, 18-year-old Essena O’Neill, earned her income through social media.

The Australian model and promoter boasts over half a million followers on Instagram and has made a living as a ‘social media celebrity’ for the last few years, posting pictures of her vegan lifestyle, holidays and fashion choices. But it's not as flawless as it might seem.  

From the lengths she goes through to take the perfect picture to sponsored posts, O’Neill has exposed the “manipulation, mundanity and insecurity” of Instagram fame and has announced she is quitting social media.

On her website, she says it has left her feeling empty, endlessly counting ‘likes’ and followers in a bid to be perfect and valued. 

“Never again will I let a number define me. IT SUFFOCATED ME.” (Sic)

“At 12 I told myself I would be of value the more views I got on YouTube,” she says.

Announcing the news via a 17-minute video posted to her YouTube account, the blogger is urging others to quit social media platforms, too, to free themselves from the ‘unhealthy’ ideals that are so damaging to one’s self esteem.

O’Neill shot to social media fame by posting images, and eventually earned money from brands who paid her to promote their products. But in her statement, the blogger has now said:

“I don't want to support social sharing sites that makes billions off advertisements I don't agree with.”

Explaining her reasoning, O’Neill says she spent “hours watching perfect girls online, wishing I was them” but that “I still wasn’t happy, content or at peace with myself.”

“Social media isn't real. It's a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers,” she says in an Instagram post.

“It's perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement. I was consumed by it.”

The blogger has deleted all her social media accounts except her Instagram, created a new website and moved her YouTube account over to Vimeo, because of it’s “positive and value based ranking, not likes or followers or BS ads,” she says on her website.

O’Neill renamed her Instagram account to ‘Social Media Is Not Real Life’ and deleted 2,000 images that she said “served no real purpose other than self-promotion.”

She has edited the captions of the remaining 86 images to explain what it really took to create the images, how contrived they all are, and how much she got paid to post each one.

She said she did this to reveal the “manipulation, mundanity and insecurity” that really lay behind each photograph.

From photographs of the model in a bikini or posed in beautiful dresses; all the images now expose what actually happened behind the lens.

On one image of herself posed by a lake in a white gown, O’Neill has edited the caption to read:

“NOT REAL LIFE - I didn't pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram, the formal made me feel incredibly alone.”

On another image – a selfie in a white top with a turquoise necklace- O’Neill has written:

“Edit: “Please like this photo, I put on makeup, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewellery... 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”

Some of the captions even reveal how the shots would have affected the photographer of each, with one of O’Neill in a bikini saying that her sister had probably taken over 100 pictures to get the perfect shot of her stomach.

“NOT REAL LIFE” reads the caption. “Took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals”

Another image, of the star in activewear, has been captioned to reveal the “calorie restriction” and excessive exercising that she had to do in order to maintain her picture perfect image.

In her video, O’Neill revealed how the pressure to gain followers slowly ate away at her life, saying that:

“The only time I felt better about myself, really, was the more followers, the more likes, the more praise and the more views I got online. It was never enough.”

The blogger also revealed how advertising imagery deeply damaged her self-image, saying that when she was 12, she would stare at images of models in campaigns and wonder how she could look like them.

“I remember googling models centimetres of their waist and their thighs and then measuring my own to compare,” she says. 

The blogger’s new website will cover “veganism, creative imagery with purpose, poems, writing, interviews with people that inspire me, and of course the finical reality behind deluding people off Instagram” (sic).

Although we all look at Instagram posts by famous bloggers which appear to reveal the quotidian activities of the rich and famous, we tell ourselves we know they are fake and yet, cannot avoid the green-eyed monster that we become when we see them. To have a blogger be so brutally honest in her exposure of what is going on behind the photographs is extremely eye-opening.

As a result, people have reacted positively to O’Neill’s stand against social media, and she has even gained followers on Instagram, taking her number up to 702,000 followers. 

You can watch O'Neill's video announcement in full below.