After she spent years amassing hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, one Australian social media model is calling it quits so she can search for what’s “real.”
But not everyone is buying it.
Thanks to copious media reports and a conversation surrounding her actions online, her follower account is only growing by the thousands.
Keep reading for the full story (and her photos — at least until she deletes them).
Essena O’Neill, 19, says she dreamed for years of being famous online. She started obsessing over famous models’ body measurements and massive followings at age 12, and gradually turned herself into one of the beautiful women she’d admired.
But she recently realised that the clothes, adoration, and modelling gigs aren’t making her happy. After spending two weeks in L.A. without using her mobile phone at all, she realised she’d been relying too much on the validation that comes from an Instagram like.
“I realised I didn’t know myself without social media and without my physical appearance,” she said.
O’Neill had offers from big brands and sponsorships at her feet, but she still felt off.
“I was dating a guy who was way more famous than me, way more successful, had an amazing car, was beautiful beyond words,” she said. “And he was f—ing depressed.”
So she decided to upload a teary, emotional, 17-minute video about her dilemma on November 2. It currently has over 1.2 million views.
Another bombshell: despite her Instagram career, she says she still can’t pay her rent. So in the video, she asks followers and fans to donate money to her new website called Let’s Be Game Changers.
She says she’s using her new site to promote environmentalism and veganism. She’s posted animal rights memes like the one below on her Instagram account for years.
She doesn’t see why making money from product placement and modelling is considered ok but profiting from her new anti-social-media movement is not. “It’s a movement that is far greater than I,” she said.
O’Neill hasn’t deleted her Instagram account (at least not yet), but she tells viewers she went back and revised the captions. “Our youth is obsessed with a 2D world,” she wrote under this photo. “It’s consuming us.”
Since that first video went up, O’Neill posted a follow-up from 20 hours ago where she cries with joy over the attention her movement has been getting. (Which means she’s still using social media.)
She was thrilled to find that her message was “going global,” she said. “I had so many hits this morning. I have so many emails from people like ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘The Project.'” She shows viewers her computer screen, full of emails from the press.
“All these massive media outlets want to do interviews that want to talk about the reality behind social media and I feel so grateful that this is getting spread, that young people can find out the reality behind the ‘perfect Instagram life.'”
Online, many are applauding her for spreading her message.
— Gemma Welsh (@gemwelsh6) November 3, 2015
i think Essena O'Neill's story is inspiring & I admire her for taking a stance against social media when she's so well-known & influential
— matthew (@grxth) November 3, 2015
She is my hero! This brave young woman reveals the truth about social media fame. It takes real soul,… https://t.co/xao6NdkG6E
— Judie Aronson (@JudieAronson) November 3, 2015
Meanwhile, others don’t think social media is to blame for her unhappiness and are questioning why she continues to post on YouTube and Vimeo while asserting that she’s done with social media.
I keep seeing these posts on Essena Oneill quitting social media so I finally watched her video… girl just confused her job with real life
— Trish (@CoeurDeLaReveur) November 3, 2015
In a way, that Essena O'Neill is genius. By taking herself "off" social media, she's now ALL OVER IT. I hadn't even heard of her yesterday.
— AllThingsStationery (@TessaSowry) November 3, 2015
Social media is what you make of it. Post what you want and enjoy what you do. Don't blame social media for you being fake RE Essena O'Neill
— Evan Edinger (@EvanEdinger) November 3, 2015
What’s more, two fellow social media stars, Nina and Randa, say they spent time with O’Neill in L.A. and don’t believe her story.
Either way, Essena’s social media fame isn’t going anywhere. She’s gained over 200,000 followers since posting her video on Monday.
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