Sometimes the time comes to say "enough is enough" and move on from something that has become a cancer in your life. That day has come for Australian model Essena O'Neill who over the last few years has accumulated over 500,000 followers along with myriad of modeling contracts, offers from major agencies, and an endless lineup of sponsors.
In an emotional video posted this morning, O'Neill details how since the age of about 12 her entire life had been dominated by the concept of amassing as many followers as possible as a result of the fabrication of a false identity that revolves completely around her physical appearance.
Since the age of about 15, O'Neill had cultivated an identity of false perfection that she obsessively shared with the world and filled an endless need to acquire more validation through social media. O'Neill is now reorienting her career to speak about how the creation of this fake persona that was based completely on physical appearance has had a tremendously negative impact on both the perception of her own self-worth as well as starving her from experiencing life outside social media.
In a radical move, O'Neill has deleted the better part of 2,000 photos on her Instagram only leaving a handful which she has amended the descriptions of to reveal the actual reality of what those images took to create or how she was actually feeling at the time.
Furthermore, in the video above and several others, O'Neill speaks to how shamelessly and misleadingly Instagram models such as herself promote the products of sponsors. She says they are paid as high as $2,000 per post simply to create the illusion that she was using a certain product organically as part of her everyday life and creating a sense that these products play a huge part in how happy O'Neill seemed to be.
Moving forward O'Neill has decided that she wants to be part of a solution rather than the problem and has opted to re-brand her identity away from social media while rebuilding a connection with the world and helping inspire others to do that same via her new website.
As photographers, our job is often tied to creating the very sorts of images that O'Neill believes can be so harmful. I've made no secret of the fact that even though I have made career out of photographing beauty that I have never liked the concept of shooting "sexy" as a subject, and always strive to focus on character or story when creating an image instead of body or sexuality.
There is certainly a lot of personal confidence and inner power to be had from leveraging photography to show someone how beautiful they really are (Sue Bryce speaks on this topic often). A tremendous problem, however, takes shape when those images become the primary or sole source of someone's confidence or concept of self-worth.
I'd love to hear what you think about the whole ordeal in the comments below. How do you think we, as photographers, can move forward and continue doing what we do while also doing good and promoting positivity in the process?