A teen Instagram celebrity quit social media because ‘it isn’t real life’

Let’s give a round of applause for Essena O’Neill.

The Australia teen recently announced that despite having more than half a million followers on Instagram, 200,000 subscribers on YouTube and 60,000 on Snapchat, she’s quitting social media.

Instagram @essenaoneill

The 19-year-old posted her last YouTube video explaining how her younger self once strived to be followed and admired on social media.

“When I was 12, I told myself I meant nothing. That I was worthy of nothing because I wasn’t popular online. I wasn’t a model. I wasn’t beautiful by society’s standards.”

She used to obsessively stalk other women who were that online, and believed if she had the same social clout, she would feel valued and happy too.

Her life became consumed by creating the perfect image of herself to get more followers, more likes and more views.

Instagram @essenaoneill
Instagram @essenaoneill

Over the past several years, she has built a social media empire. She began to get more sponsorship opportunities to support herself and was even offered to model in Los Angeles, she said.

On the outside, she looked like she was living that “perfect life” her 12-year-old self had once dreamed of. But O’Neill said everything she did was edited.

“I’m the girl that had it all, and I want to tell you that having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life,” she explained in the video.

She kept her Instagram account online for about a week, re-editing the captions on those “perfect” photos to reveal the truth behind the image. She deleted it Wednesday, according to her blog, but other fan accounts still remain online.

“A 15 year old girl that calorie restricts and excessively exercises is not goals,” she re-wrote on one post.

I was miserable. Stuck. Uninspired. Angry. I didn’t enjoy the act of creating art, writing or any forms of self expression like I once did as a child. When no one judged it, I created without limitation or filters. When it was for no one else but myself, I fell in love with it. And it loved me right back. It made me feel alive. It was like capturing and expressing real life, real feeling, real beauty — it gave me this joy that I still can’t explain. You know that feeling of inspiration, passion and purpose you get when you do something you just love? That’s why I do what I do. I don’t want approval anymore, it traps me into thinking I need more and more and more. I don’t want to be liked or judged either. I want a place where I can give with no expectations or outcome. I don’t want followers anymore. I want a world of individual beings. #gamechangers #socialmediaisnotreal #socialmedia #bethechange #movement #essenaoneill

A post shared by Essena Oneill 🌴🌊🌎 (@essena.oneiil) on

“Stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs,” O’Neill posted on one of her re-edited captions. “I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”

She said she would go to great lengths to post the perfect selfie.

“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,” she wrote.

Before saying goodbye to Instagram for good, O’Neill also deleted 2,000 photos that she said “served no real purpose other than self promotion.”

“Without realising, I’ve spent majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance,” she wrote on another Instagram post from Oct. 27. “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s 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. I was consumed by it.”

Instagram @essenaoneill
Instagram @essenaoneill

She also started the site letsbegamechangers.com where she hopes to educate others on the downside of seeking approval from others online, write about real values in life and encourage others to be present.

Of course, O’Neill’s story is not a new concept. 

Social media can be whatever you want it to be, but the teenage years have always been associated with insecurity and seeking acceptance from others.

And this generation has something new: hearts.

The system of liking and following others is a quantifiable way for teens to measure their popularity and self-worth against their peers. Just scroll through Instagram. Thousands of beautiful people have exploited their assets online, and it can be quite shameless.

O’Neill, on the other hand, was able to recognize the system for what it is and do something meaningful about it.

While some argue that her effort to ditch social media was nothing more than a publicity stunt, I say her overall message is a positive one.

UPDATE: After her message went viral online, O’Neill posted another emotional video thanking others for the support.

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