Why this model quit Instagram in tears

20 April 2017 by
First published: 28 December 2015

With an global fan base of more than half a million followers on Instagram, Australian beauty queen Essena O’Neill caused an internet storm when she decided to delete her account after revealing the negative impact that the social media platform had had on her life.

On face value, anyone looking at her profile would have assumed she had a picture perfect life, but sadly the stark reality was very different. Her first selfie post received almost 2,500 likes, she was signed to one of biggest modelling agencies in Australia, in addition to sponsorship deals with a handful of top companies who paid for her to endorse their products. But she was deeply unhappy beneath her sunny exterior. Her ‘3D world’ was actually one of insecurity and superficiality.

The 18-year old role model says she became: ‘hungry for social media validation,’ and her thirst for followers and ‘likes’ turned her into a completely different person. So on 27 October, she deleted over 2,000 photos that she said, ‘served no real purpose other than self-promotion.’ She then proceeded to edit captions to almost 100 images. ‘When you let yourself be defined by numbers, you let yourself be defined by something that is not pure that is not real,’ she said. Essena edited images on her account to reveal the truth behind the pictures. A photo of her wearing a bikini was edited from: ‘Things are getting pretty wild at my house. Maths B and English in the sun,’ to: ‘See how relatable my captions were – 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.’

Essena has now turned her focus to real life projects, taking the first step with the launch of her blog letsbegamechangers.com The site will cover everything from veganism to interviews, poetry and creative imagery with a purpose. The site is ‘aimed to inspire constant questioning, where there’s no likes or views or followers … just my content as raw as I want.’ In her first post she challenged her followers to live a week without social media. ‘You can go outside and meet people, and feel connected, you do not need to prove your value on social media,’ she believes.