Update (Nov. 4): Essena O’Neill has deleted both her Instagram and YouTube pages completely.
Australian social media star Essena O’Neill had what she once thought was a “perfect life.”
By the time she was 18 years old, she had over half a million followers on Instagram, 60,000 average views on Snapchat and more than 250,000 subscribers on YouTube. Fashion brands were sending her free clothing in exchange for Instagram posts and she was making around $2,000 per month on her YouTube videos.
In her own words, it was her pre-teen dream come true. She was the type of person she had looked up to as a 12-year-old girl – beautiful and popular, with an army of social media followers to boost her self-esteem with “Likes.”
But she was miserable.
“I didn’t live in the real world, I lived through screens. And I created a celebrity construct of myself, believing it would bring me happiness. That couldn’t be further away from the truth,” wrote O’Neill.
Last week, O’Neill deleted her SnapChat and Tumblr accounts and removed over 2,000 photos from her Instagram account.
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The photos that remain have since been edited to tell the truth behind the picture – whether it be a faked promotional shot for a brand, or a bikini shot that took hundreds of takes to perfect.
For example, this “candid” bikini shot wasn’t candid at all.
“Stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. 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 wrote on the edited caption.
O’Neill admitted that she would get done up and take dozens of selfies just to have something to post, often times editing her selfies with multiple apps before posting them. Some of her most “liked” outfits she would never even wear out of the house.
“I was addicted to what others thought of me, simply because it was so readily available,” O’Neill wrote on her new website called “Let’s be Game Changers.”
“I was severely addicted. I believed how many likes and followers I had correlated to how many people liked me. I didn’t even see it happening, but social media had become my sole identity. I didn’t even know what I was without it.”
O’Neill is now using her social media fame to educate young users about the reality behind social media world, noting how much she was paid to wear certain outfits in her posts.
“Any girl with a lot of followers promoting a bikini brand is paid, I would say 99% of the time,” she wrote on the caption of a bikini shot.
Her new website aims to encourage social media users to not be defined by the number of likes, or followers they have and to embrace their authentic identities through their social media channels, instead of using filters to try to make life seem perfect.
By Tuesday, media outlets around the world had picked up her story. In a tear-filled video response, O’Neill thanked fans for being receptive to her message, noting, “For once in my life I am just so happy that this is real.”
“I’m crying because I needed to hear this when I was younger,” she wrote in a blog post Monday.
“I am just so grateful to think of how many young men and women might see this movement and stop limiting themselves to artificial ideas of happiness online. When you stop comparing and viewing yourself against others, you start to see your own spark and individuality. Everyone has love, kindness, creativity, passion and purpose. Don’t let anyone sell you something different.”