November 3, 2015

Smile for the Camera

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


  1. This is an insightful post Angelica. I can agree with you. Sometimes we don't know how some people are struggling proving their lives in Instagram.
    I like O'Neil's captions in hers. I myself can't tackle instagram, though I get more likes when I post among my 100+ followers vs 2000 followers of others :) maybe once in awhile, but since I switched to an old 2009 flip phone in the last 2 months, I like how simple my internet experience everyday now. I rather focus on education, improving my career, parenting, and earning dollars -- that is my goal.

    1. I love that you have a flip phone! It takes a surprising amount of work to keep up with multiple social media accounts, and sometimes you have to ask if it's worth it. As you show, it's the quality of interactions you have online (and in real life!) that matter, not the quantity.

  2. smiles!


  3. This news was in my country too. By the time I comment on this, certain issues have happened and new news have resurfaced about her. She is not that sincere and truthful at all. I sure thought she was a brave soul initially.

    I would like to invite you to check out my latest giveaway. Hope to see you there and have a good week ahead.

    Jo's Jumbled Jardinière
    Current giveaway

    1. Oh, that is news to me! I have seen some push-back from people who disagree with her, but I have not heard anything further about Essena herself.

  4. So glad that you decided to stop by my blog today because this was such an insightful and interesting post to read. I myself am not really a big part of the beauty side of instagram because I am all about books. But I do know how much the fashion industry can make girls want to change their outlook or appearance and it's so good to see someone come and stand out and show the truth behind the pictures. It can't be easy, but she took a stand for a lot of people out there, and it's good that people have noticed and that it has made a difference.

    1. I'm all about books, too! I agree - I saw some criticism over her generalization of social media as "evil", but ultimately, she presented a very valid side of the story. As you say, she helped a lot of people out there (including me) and that's what counts.