Why Essena O’Neill is Right – The Dark Side of Social Media

This post is going to be a little different but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and honestly, it’s too long to post on Facebook.

A few months ago I unfollowed all boutiques, brands, fashion bloggers, Instagram-famous-babes and fitness models. This simple act was a small act of defiance. I realised as I mindlessly scrolled through images and images of beautiful people with beautiful lives that I was failing to live my own and I was feeling pretty crappy about myself. As I tacitly supported brands with my little ‘like’ or ‘follow’ vote, I was a part of the consumption machine – consuming other lives, aspiring to look better, feel better, be better. Apparently this all translated into buying more clothes, restricting calories and exercising everyday. It also meant supporting industries with pretty some nefarious trade practices. Since unfollowing all of these brands and people, I’ve come to a place that accepts myself exactly as I am and I refuse to apologise for it. Essentially I’ve learned that elusive self-love lesson and in truth it feels good. It feels powerful. Ladies, dudes, would recommend.

I did however, keep a couple of the insta-babes on my little follow list. Essena O’Neill was one. I’ve been following her for about a year and in truth, she’s part of the reason I went vegan. She wasn’t just posting beautiful images, she was also posting about important ideas and gently encouraging people to look into veganism for themselves. So I did. Naturally I came to the same conclusion. I no longer wanted to be a tacit supporter of that industry. End of story.

So now that she’s gone viral world-wide for declaring her exit from social media, I wanted to weigh in because I’ve noticed a lot of problematic rubbish being blasted all over the internet.

ICYMI Essena O’Neill is an Aussie girl who had lots of followers on all the internet things. She had a relatively typical insta-babe profile – lot’s of bikini shots, fashion shots, travelling shots, modelling shots and intermittent posts about her values and ideas. Y’know the good life. She had so many followers that companies would pay her $$$$ to be pretty with their products so stupid followers like us would buy their products because her profile was that of a life to be aspired to. #goals. In her declaration of exiting the various social media platforms she used, she’s done the internet equivalent of flipping a desk and leaving. Badass. She’s pulled back the curtain on the insta-babe life and revealed it’s a life not worth aspiring to. It’s not real. It’s contrived. Getting these shots takes hours (lol no wonder mine always look rubbish I’m just doing it wrong) and really it just leads to a full-blown addiction to social media and a hollow, miserable inner-life. Not only that, but worth and value is associated with ‘likes’ and ‘views’, which Essena basically says is a load of BS because we’re all worth more than that. Yes GIRL. 

Long story short, Essena has attacked and rejected AN ASPECT of social media culture, that in her view, is hollow, false, and toxic. This is not to say all social media is bad. There are obviously some really great aspects to it and used as a tool to share, create and connect it’s good but it isn’t ALWAYS used for these purposes and THAT IS THE PROBLEM.

So let’s get into it.

Firstly, if you followed Essena before the big exit, you’d know that she’s been dancing around this idea for a while – being vulnerable, being authentic, doing what makes you genuinely happy rather than what is socially accepted, being real, being more transparent. What mainstream media and the noobs commenting don’t know or acknowledge is that from her (old) social media, it seems like she’s been going through a pretty intense period of self-growth. To me, exiting social media is a natural progression of everything she’s been sharing over the last few months. She had started to hate the ‘celebrity concept’ that she had curated around her life (half a million followers is pretty stratospheric). It clearly alienated her and she clearly felt increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that her very flawed and imperfect life was seen as ‘goals’. She’s more than a pretty face and that’s the point. 

Secondly, dismissing Essena’s negative experience with social media as ‘unique’ or ‘her fault’ disregards two very key points:

One, she is EIGHTEEN. EIGHTEEN. She has literally grown up with social media and the result were feelings of insecurity, of not being worth anything, of not being enough because she, like you and I, was comparing her life to others. She was 15 when she started ‘making it’. Being paid to advertise products, taking sexualised pictures of herself. She was a CHILD. What do you honestly think is going to happen if you offer a CHILD with an undeveloped sense of self or an undeveloped ethical code, money to take a pretty picture? Fact is, it is predatory of these companies to lure young girls into promotion.

The second point is that numerous studies have suggested that using social media affects mental health and well-being. Add in the seemingly burgeoning troll culture and rampant cyberbullying and you’ve got yourself a toxic mix of a mental illness waiting to happen. I’ve watched people I love the most, quite literally destroy themselves because they were young and thought these lives on Tumblr and Instagram were real lives. They know better now but there are young people out there right now who don’t. Essena, pulling the plug and calling it all out for what it is is not only insanely brave and an enormous risk to take, it’s potentially going to save lives.

So I say, well fucking done. Well done for being brave. Well done for calling it out. Well done for being vulnerable. Well done for stepping away and doing your own thing. That is more #inspirational than all the bikini pics on instagram. Yes girl. YES.

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