Hundreds of likes on an Instagram picture of a perfectly posed, blond woman in a bikini may lead some to believe that she is confident and has a perfect life. But behind the scenes, Essena O’Neill felt like a lost and lonely teenager.
That is what the social media personality wants her followers and the world of social media to know: What you see on social media isn’t always true to life.
The Australian-born model, who has made a career from posting blissful photos of herself in the perfect outfit with the perfect backdrop, surprised her followers when she deactivated her social media accounts, except for Instagram and YouTube.
She deleted thousands of pictures and instead, edited her posts to reiterate her message, “Social media is an illusion.” O’Neill left some pictures on the site but added her comments to describe how she really felt when the photo was being taken.
O’Neill, who recently turned 19 years old, said she wished someone had told her that she was worth more than just an Instagram photo.
Social media personalities such as O’Neill get paid to wear outfits and to plug and promote products. They are even given talking points and instructions on when to post, said O’Neill in her YouTube video.
Editing her Instagram is O’Neill’s “wake-up call” to everyone that follows her, she said. “It’s not real life,” she said in a video on her website, Let’s Be Game Changers.
Since she was 12, O’Neill has accumulated over half a million followers across multiple social media platforms. The motivation to become a social media phenom came when she was a young teen. O’Neill said she felt unworthy and unpopular by society’s standards without being validated with lots of likes and views. O’Neill said she would follow famous Facebook users that she thought had it all because they had so many likes and followers.
“I dreamed of being one. I studied them, I envied them, I put in a lot of effort to be one of them,” she wrote on her website.
O’Neill’s “wake-up call” came when she achieved great numbers of followers, but realized it left her even more lonely. She began to need “more followers, more viewers” to feel good.
O’Neill was surrounded by other wealthy, famous and important social media personalities, but she said in her YouTube video that some of them told her that they were just as sad as she was.
She said that she had “no idea” how she would make money going forward and asked for support from those visiting her site.
O’Neill has not responded to requests to speak to CNN.
In a different YouTube video, O’Neill struggled to speak through tears as she thanked her followers and the media for the support and attention she has been getting for speaking out about social media. She wants fans to know that posts are “edited and contrived to get more views.” This puts pressure on young girls to look perfect and to chase an unrealistic version of the ideal body.
“I no longer want to spend hours and hours of my time scrolling, viewing and comparing myself to others,” she said. “I want to do something, anything, something radical, something a little different. I want to use my imagination, my individual mind, my unique take on this world.”