Model Mayhem: Essena O’Neill & The False Reality of Instagram

“The premise? What would happen if your mobile phone killed you.” -Aldous Snow, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Those words have never rung truer, in the wake of Instagram model and 19-year-old Essena O’Neill’s decision to shun social media and go off the grid, or to at least go off the grid and later come back on the grid, with captions now deconstructing the reality of the lifestyle she chose but ultimately felt forced to portray.

Everyone has made their strong stances known already, mostly denouncing her to quit complaining about her rise to social media fame, while many more have wondered if there is a hidden agenda for an even larger following given the story’s virality.

More importantly some do seem to get the bigger picture, that being if she can reach teen girls and show them that spending your life getting the perfect shot in your bikini or that maintaining the perfect account and chasing likes will not create or sustain happiness.

I have taken in everything I could on what she’s said, both in her Youtube video and on social media. And I’m actually thrilled at what she’s been saying, authentic or not. The idea of a model with close to a million followers telling girls not to associate so much of their happiness and self-worth with their appearance can go a long way. To understand that each picture is not a spontaneous moment, but a full-fledged photo shoot. That each adventure is planned, each outfit carefully picked, each caption coerced.

People have chosen to focus on the sincerity of the message as opposed to the cause. A teary-eyed teenage model with a huge following will tend to do that. While this is only the beginning of the saga, I choose to focus on the cause.

My initial reaction was one of disbelief. I frowned at the trend on Twitter and scowled upon hearing she was openly asking for money. But then I looked deeper. I witnessed the intelligence and foresight, not something stressed in her line of work. And at a certain point I realized, I don’t care if she’s telling the truth. I don’t even care if this is some big stunt that we all fall victim to, that Essena’s disappearing act is an elaborate hoax designed to create an even bigger following.

I don’t think it is, but frankly that doesn’t matter. First off, a girl getting to her level (over 500,000 followers) would have too much to lose career-wise, and her in-depth honesty in getting paid to promote products would piss off sponsors. And of course, the intelligence. One look at her website and various quotes showed me a girl who will accomplish whatever she sets out to in life. Virtually anyone could decide to ‘shun’ social media, but without a large enough following, there is no cause.

Ironically, shedding light on her fake reality has led to her lack of credibility. No one was asking any questions when she was constantly posing in exotic locations and on boats. In reality, the allure of a stranger’s seemingly glamorous life often times is better than the truth. We want to believe that everyone does actually have it better than us, that we’re the only ones with problems.

In scouring girls’ Instagram accounts during bouts of boredom, I’ve been appalled by the same things as Essena. Comments such as “goals” and “can I be you” from girls are as common as “you look so pretty” or “you’re hot”. Is that really all girls think society expects of them? To be hot? Surely it’s a stage they grow out of, and at 19, Essena is ahead of the turn. But it’s not just models creating this reality, it’s everyone. Even though I am out of college, sorority girls still crowd my Instagram homepage. Every picture is sickeningly happy, describing how much they love/are in love with their friends who they unequivocally talk shit about mercilessly in the comfort of their own home.

Now you can see why I find this transparency so refreshing. A personality on social media or on Youtube is a life so few have experienced that hardly anyone can report back on, kind of like heaven. And even if they were to, who would give it a negative review? No one wants to hear about the pitfalls of fame or what isn’t so grand about it; all of which Miss O’Neill is learning the hard way. Nonetheless a worthy source finally spilling the guts that the carefree and glamorous life is in fact far from carefree is a message I will always endorse. Everyone has pain and insecurities, some are just better at hiding it. I really hope I didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.

Time will tell what O’Neill’s motives are, but for now let’s let her words speak for a younger and more easily influenced generation of girls.

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