Essena O’Neill is 19-year-old woman from Australia who decided to quit social media. She was a part of a new phenomenon of “Instagram models,” typically girls ranging from the age of 15 into their 20s, who decide to take a stand against the obsessive perfectionism fueled by social media. She was often paid for wearing a dress, tagging the designer and posting it on Instagram for her 500,000 followers to see. But then, in early November, she decided to leave the social media world. Many people are asking, “but why would she do that? Why would she walk away from that perfect life?”
Well, O’Neill has been doing modeling specifically on Instagram since she was sixteen. She has spoken about how unhappy this job and media presence has been for her. And that certain pictures were “the only thing that made me feel good that day, having a toned body is not all we humans are capable of.” She has spoken about this multiple times and has said “I hid behind perfect smiles, a pretty painted face, sexy trendy clothes I was paid to wear and perfectly curled hair. Companies, sponsors, modelling agencies, other bloggers…. that person was all they knew.” People didn’t know who she really was, and as a result she was being paid simply for being pretty, skinny and societies opinion of beautiful.
O’Neill has also spoken about what social media has done for the expectations of women in this day and age and what beautiful, sexy or healthy is supposed to look like. Numerous times she has used the term “genetic lottery” as a way of speaking about how many people perceive her as perfect. She is blond haired, blue eyed, has high cheekbones and has what many say is a healthy or skinny or amazing body. But what they haven’t realized is that every person can’t look like that. O’Neill has said that she simply has what society thinks is a perfect body or a pretty face and that she simply won the “genetic lottery.” She says that “values were my body, my likes and pleasing others. Physical appearance is so deceptive. Camera angles, filters, time of day, tan… Plus I was so young and born with a naturally long torso and tiny waist. It’s the genetic lottery. Nothing aspiring about that.”
Essena O’Neill was being paid thousands of dollars to be posting these pictures. Her pictures were often of her in a bikini with a perfectly tanned, skinny body, or in a tight dress in a forest with the light hitting her perfectly, or of her with flawless makeup and perfectly curled hair. People have called her an inspiration for being healthy or for eating right, but she had to do so much to make those pictures look great. She has explained having to take 50 to 100 selfies at a time, or sucking in her stomach and starving herself to look as skinny as possible and forcing a smile to create a good picture.
So when she quit Instagram and YouTube she would replace the old caption with new ones about what it took to look that way. Now she has created an Essena O’Neill website called “Let’s Be Game Changers” where she shows what she eats, videos on what it took to post a certain images. There are motivational and truly inspirational messages about some of the dangers of social media on young people.
O’Neill’s quitting of social media has opened the eyes of so many people about both the dependency of and addiction to social media and the social pressures around girls and women to have a certain body type and look a specific way. She has admitted that she wishes that she had talked more about being healthy and instead of starving yourself to go vegan or that she wished she had started writing because it was her talent. Essena O’Neill’s decision has really raised awareness to what social media platforms, like Instagram, have become.