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An Open Letter to Essena O’Neill, the Teenager That Quit Social Media

For those of you that have not seen the countless articles recently, Essena O’Neill is an 18-year-old girl from Australia that gained popularity through her famous Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube pages. She had about half a million followers on her Instagram when she decided to quit social media because the pictures and content she was posting were endorsed by other companies and her “perfect life” was not as perfect as everyone thought it was. Essena’s posts were making her miserable and now, six years after she first started blogging, she is trying to create a movement away from Instagram, which she claims “is not real” on her new website called ‘Let’s Be Game Changers.’ After deleting around 2,000 pictures from her Instagram, she has also changed captions on the remaining pictures to show the realness behind the pictures people commented on with “#goals.” She continues by saying, “this is about not making your life revolve around a screen, but about real things that actually matter.” Essena, this letter is for you.

Dear Essena,

I am a twenty-year-old college girl with a passion for writing, food, and writing about food. I have two Instagrams, one that I consider my “personal” account, and another which I shamelessly post mouth-watering food pictures to. Instagram is a big part of my daily life—I am constantly scrolling down my feed to see what my friends all over the world are doing, what my favorite publications are publishing, and what the celebrities I idolize are working on. But most importantly, I follow the same people that claim to be what my bios says: a “blogger.”

I think there are many levels of claiming to be a “blogger.” My bio says that because I am constantly writing and I take pride in my passion for writing. But, what you have brought to the surface is the secretly painful art of social media “famous Instagramers.”  I can guarantee anyone reading this follows someone that makes money off of their posts because they are paid to wear a certain piece of clothing, or they do their hair or makeup a certain way by using brand-endorsed products. And, like you say, being endorsed for posts is perfectly fine, but I am so sorry for you. I am sorry you fell into this digitally-idolized person that made you count calories at the age of fifteen and had you exercising excessively for the sake of fake “#fitspo.” I am sorry that you felt like you had to look a certain way to gain credibility and attention through likes and followers. I am sorry it took you until you broke to understand that you were not as happy as your followers thought you made yourself to be.

You are right. We need a revolution to the way social media works and the type of content that is pushed out into the world. However, I think you also need to see beyond what you have personally connected with and see that there are people that exist on Instagram that work to spread positivity and love. Notable people like Sophia Bush, who uses her profile to create awareness for the causes she is passionate about, such as The Girl Project, while empowering her followers to be “both a masterpiece and a work in progress.” People like Zendaya, who posted a side-by-side before and after shot for a magazine shoot where she was posed normally and then how she was unnaturally edited without knowing by the magazine. She was so passionate to spread what she claims to be her “honest and pure self-love” that she asked the publication to remove the edited images. There are also countless people who are less known but nevertheless, spread the love they have for being perfectly imperfect and use hashtags such as #loveyourself. These are the types of girls and women we need to start looking to for inspiration.

The above image is a comment my eleven-year-old sister left on one of Zendaya’s Instagram posts this past summer. She was so excited that there could be a mere chance Zendaya would see her comment, and regardless, she had to thank her for being a role model to her. My sister is not the only one from her generation that has an Instagram profile, and I worry everyday what the effects are going to be for their pre-mature exposure to the related content you used to post. I dread the day where my sister may possibly find someone else’s Instagram relatively similar to your old one, and start to tell me that she needs a thigh-gap or a flatter stomach.

Please know that just because the spotlight has been on you for a while, does not mean you are alone in feeling like this. Sometimes, social media is taken too far. But, you need to know how amazing I and countless others think you are for speaking out about how you feel. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked my sister to take a picture of me until I felt like I looked good enough to post it. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked others if the picture I wanted to post was worthy enough for Instagram, or how many times it was asked of me. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked or have been asked to like a picture because it was almost at a certain number of likes. I cannot tell you how sick I have felt over the past twenty-four hours after reading your story because I used to consider altering my pictures because I was not comfortable with how I looked, or how many times I have seen others go through with editing their pictures so they look nothing like they do in real life.

So, thank you. Thank you for being such a strong voice against the existing, painful reality that was once buried under the perception some Instagram bloggers give to having a “perfect life” on social media. Thank you for taking a step back and admitting that these things made you unhappy. Thank you for finding passion in trying to help create a positive and safe space where girls can find inspiration without feeling the need to alter their body or post their life in a certain way. Thank you for becoming someone my sister can start to look up to for positive inspiration.

HCXO,

Jessie

If you would like to learn more about Essena’s movement, check out her website here.

 

Photo Credits: 1 &2- Essena’s Instagram, 3-screenshot provided by the author, 4- Zendaya’s Instagram, 4 & 5- Essena’s Instagram

 

Hi! I'm Jessie and I am currently dual majoring in communication and non-fiction writing at The University of Pittsburgh. I am also the Senior Editor for Pitt's Her Campus! I emulate everything Carrie Bradshaw and can watch Breakfast At Tiffany's everyday for the rest of my life. You can usually find me blasting country music a little too loud while wearing a floppy hat.
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