Yesterday night, Essena O’Neill became the latest viral topic. O’Neill is a teenage Australian Instagram star who decided to break past her façade and quit social media. After years of obsessing over 'like's on her flawless candid shots - and feeling the pressure of making those very candid shots flawless - O'Neill finally cracked under her lack of authenticity. To her fans, she appeared to live the perfect life. She had corporate sponsorships and modelling gigs, and as far as her social media made it seem, she lived a gloriously happy life. But in reality, O'Neill was far from happy. Her life on social media was a careful construct of lies and deceit. She felt addicted and consumed. She had lost a sense of her self.
And so, O'Neill quit social media. She deleted a large portion of her online presence and edited her Instagram captions to reveal the true behind-the-scenes of her life. She could very well be jeopardizing her social media career, but there's a more fulfilling life to be gained in exchange.
I have most certainly been victim to letting the shiny veneer of Instagram get to me. I've spent more time than I would like to admit scrolling through Instagram accounts of girls who appear to have it all. Girls with enviable wardrobes, fantastic bodies, photogenic visages, incredible photography skills, glowing confidence, and of course, a seemingly glamorous life. These are the kind of girls I look at and think, she is more fashionable than me, she is more successful than me...she is better than me.
I had written last year about the moment it finally hit me how fabricated glamour and perfection really were in fashion editorials, but Instagram is a different monster to tackle. The thing with Instagram is that it is a platform for everyone. It is not an elite, industry publication, but rather a platform for the 'everyday' girl. We all know deep down that comparing ourselves to media portrayals of women is futile, but when it's a girl you know from school staring back at you with her pearly whites, expensive dress, and long lean legs, the feeling of inadequacy becomes more real. I see them in the hallway and I wonder how it is they live such a 'perfect' life, whereas I end up in my sweatpants, alone in front of my laptop, slaving over homework - day in, day out. What part of my life did I not work hard enough in to stray so far from the path of my peers?
But O'Neill is a noble reminder that things are not always what they seem. Even our peers smile for the camera and put on a face for show. The type of perfection Instagram is characterized by is not innate; no one truly lives like that. A mere collection of photos does not, and cannot, represent all the intricacies of someone's life - and so I shouldn't let Instagram fool me into thinking that it does.
Although let me admit I am not entirely pure. I, too, post photos on my Facebook page that attempt to paint my life as more stylized than it really is. Of course, a significant part of why I do so is simply wanting to share my excitement with others, but another part of me does feel the pressure to validate myself as a "fashion person". Yet hopefully, I keep it real often enough to remind all of you that I'm honestly just your average girl. I'm not a model; sometimes I pose awkwardly. I'm not a photographer; sometimes my photos are blurry. I'm not wealthy; sometimes my clothes are boring. My photos aren't professional enough to land me a sponsorship, but that's just fine. This is who I am, and while lives on Instagram do indeed appear quite pretty, I know I can find happiness on my own terms.
Edit: O'Neill has deleted her Instagram account
Image Source: Photo 1, 2