While millions of teenagers flock to Instagram, model Essena O’Neill has decided to do the opposite — and leave not just Instagram, but social media entirely. According to a video shared on her YouTube channel yesterday, the Australian Instagram star says she’s quitting social media in an effort to let go of the unhealthy addiction to likes, followers, and what is often considered the “dark side” of social media.
At times sobbing, O’Neill expresses regret as she recounts her love for art and writing, as well as an unhealthy yearning to be like the people she followed on social media. “At 12 I thought I was nothing. And then here at nearly 19 with all of these followers, I don’t know even know what is real and what is not because I’ve let myself be defined by something that is so not real.”
The 18-year old Aussie says she began her obsession with social media at the age of 12, and like many other young girls at that age, became obsessed with not just her body, but becoming as popular as the social media stars she followed. As it happens, she became one of those stars, amassing millions of followers on Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr, and turning her social media lifestyle into a successful modeling career.
Last week, however, O’Neill shared her last image on her Instagram account, which has since been renamed “Social Media Is Not Real Life.”
“I’m quitting Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr,” she says. “Without realizing, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real.” She has since deleted thousands of photos from her Instagram account and plans to re-edit truthful captions to the remaining photographs.
I’m quitting Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr. Deleted over 2000 photos here today that 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. 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. I spent majority of my day aimlessly scrolling, hours on YouTube… How can we see ourselves and our true purpose/talents if we are constantly viewing others? Many of us are in so deep we don’t realise it’s delusional powers and the impact it has on our lives. There’s a select few photos I left here, half are original captions that I believe to be educational, the other half are photos that deluded you. It was never my conscious intention, but I deluded a lot of people…Call it deception, manipulation, lying, not saying the whole truth… I was both addicted to social approval and terrified no one would value me for myself. So I rewrote the captions of these false photos with short shots of reality. EVERYTHING EXPLAINED IN THE LINK IN MY BIO. There’s no likes or views or followers there. Just my content as raw as I want. It’s all going to be free of course. My main vegan videos will still be on YouTube, but vimeo will host all the new quality content. Made to help not to get views or $$$. How will I spread my message? Organically. If it moves someone, they tell their friends about it, simple as that. I’ll be talking about vegansim, creative imagery with purpose, poems, writing, interviews with people that inspire me, and of course the finical reality behind deluding people off Instagram…I was so caught up in it all. P.S when the new form of social sharing comes out, something that doesn’t revolve around likes and views but based on similar topics/quality for example, I will see you there, whenever that day comes…. We must create change.
O’Neill has also set up a website, LetsBeGameChangers.com, designed to fight the “cult” of social media and may include the “truth” behind many of the Instagram pics she’s famous for, as mentioned on her Instagram account. The response to her departure from Instagram has been largely supportive, with fans and other Instagrammers leaving over 10,000 messages on her final Instagram post. And since publicly declaring the relationship with social media over, O’Neill’s Instagram followers have increased from over 500,000 to nearly 800,000 — O’Neill may remain an Instagram star, but for other reasons.