They say that life can be lonely at the top. Over time, 18-year old Australian Instagram model Essena O’Neill has amassed nearly 600,000 followers, a quarter of a million subscribers on YouTube and is steadily climbing in popularity on Snapchat. But she wants to give all of that away. O’Neill says the life that you see her leading on Instagram is a charade, one that made her famous yet miserable. To that end, she’s re-edited her Instagram and recaptioned her photos with detailed accounts of how she really felt that day.
"Social media is not real life", she says. "I don’t want to promote greedy industries or photoshop or fake art". O’Neill also posted this video on YouTube explaining further why she quit what she describes as her "dream life".
Over the past week, O’Neill has deleted over 2,000 photos that she believes only served an ugly purpose. As you can see from the remaining photos, her re-edited captions point to a lonely world full of pressure and isolation, with beauty and fame the only aspiration. She describes the world that she was living in as "2D" and says it made her "incredibly insecure".
O’Neill’s activism isn’t limited to an enlightening rework of her Instagram. She’s also set up letsbegamechangers.com where she posted this tearful video (amongst others) thanking everyone for their support.
O’Neill is correct – social media is a distorted version of reality, to the point that people are even debating the authenticity of O’Neill’s U-Turn, played out on Vimeo and Youtube, but this does seem like a young woman who has finally cracked under the relentless pressure being placed upon her by advertisers and modelling agencies. She’s definitely right about this too: "There is nothing zen about trying to look zen, taking a photo of you trying to be zen and proving your zen on Instagram".