Essena O’Neill is a popular 18-year-old Australian social media celebrity. Her Instagram “fame” of 586,000 followers and YouTube follower count of over 200,000 was fueled by her healthy vegan lifestyle, inspiring fitness advice, and seemingly beautiful world.
However, what we were seeing was a controlled business, not her actual life. “Everything I was doing was edited and contrived,” O’Neill says on her new site, Let’s Be Game Changers.
“I have an insight into a world of social media that I believe not many people are aware of in terms of how it works in advertisements, about how I know a lot of other social media ‘personalities’ and just how fake it all is.” — Essena O’Neill (Video: YouTube/Essenaoneill)
She deleted hundreds of photos on her Instagram account, @essenaoneill, which is followed by more than half a million people. O’Neill also went back to her old photos and changed captions to descriptions of what she was feeling like at the time of the photo, such as: “A 15 year old girl that calorie restricts and excessively exercises is not goals.”
Art Markman, psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, says, “American culture promotes fame as a goal. Media often focuses on a small group of famous people rather than telling stories of ordinary people going about their days. Some people are famous for their accomplishments (as politicians, scientists, actors, or musicians, for example). Others are famous primarily for being famous.” These people are distinguishable every day on platforms like television and magazines, but even more accessible is social media.
Markman continues, “The Internet has created opportunities for people to gain followers and fame without going through traditional media channels.” He highlighted how being known by a large number of people doesn’t equate to happiness — this is the social media illusion and contributes to the idea of a filtered life.
“Life satisfaction comes from factors like making a contribution to society, helping others, and working on projects that are bigger than yourself. It is no surprise that those people who achieve fame without engaging in activities that create more general satisfaction are often unhappy with their stardom.” Markman references Danny Kahneman’s research that shows that attaining a desired goal doesn’t equal long-term happiness, or the “hedonic treadmill.
“I had it ‘all’ and I was miserable because when you let yourself be defined by numbers, you let yourself be defined by something that is not pure. That is not real. And that is not love,” O’Neill continued in her video, which has already gotten over 50,000 views.
O’Neill had paid posts, a modeling contract, and hundreds of thousands of viewers because of the “dream life” we all thought she had. While in the United States, O’Neill sent texts to her friends when her realization began, saying, “I don’t want to promote greedy industries or photoshop or fake art…” and following it up with “i was putting so much push onto getting a visa for the US asap…but at what cost? doing shitty jobs to make more money I don’t really need?” For many Instagram users, they may scroll past these products and think that the digital influencers actually enjoy using the brand.
This is her insight to the industry that is saturated with diet teas and bright clothing and travel resorts.
“Without realizing, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance,” she wrote. “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real.”