World-Famous Instagram Model Essena O'Neill Quits Social Media

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.

https://instagram.com/p/o9zjH4tDVO/

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.

Your Thoughts?

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?

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68 Comments

Jon Sharman's picture

I think what she's doing is absolutely brilliant.

Owain Shaw's picture

Good on that young woman.

Justin Haugen's picture

It's funny when you reach a tipping point in your life and suddenly you're self-aware of your life, perception, and values.

Ryan Cooper's picture

For sure, though, tbh I imagine, in reality it is more a slow buildup in the back of one's mind that eventually reaches a tipping point the inspires action. It only seems like a sudden change in awareness to the outside world as they didn't experience the long period of growth

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

"...do you want to know. what it is..?"

On a personal level, I find this little breakdown just a bit hard to relate to... must be getting old - I'm 36 (though I still think I'm in my early 20's LOL). But that's just the thing - I've lived a real life before Internet/SM existed with no "virtual reality" BS. Nothing can replace life experiences. Kids who grew up over the past decade got fckd a bit as this SM thing been evolving.

Guaranteed: we'll see more and more of these youtube SM stars coming the same realization and we'll have a ton of withdrawals and sob stories to come! And what's more, is that there sure is so much to come (maybe it's already out there?) as a fall-out: I predict all sorts of "rehabilitation" programs from entrepreneurial types that will want to cash in on introducing people to "the real" world.

"...it is the world, that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth..."

Justin Haugen's picture

I'm 32 and feel fortunate to have been raised on the cusp of our current society and then becoming immersed in it. It helps to feel rooted in life skills and societal values that are now under developed and disregarded.

Gustavo Ferlizi's picture

Feel ya brother.

"Welcome to the desert of the real"

Erick Cavazos's picture

And yes, I understand the irony in appearing on television in order to decry it...

Scott Spellman's picture

I'm sure that her new direction is an important step in the healing process to make sure she is living her life for her own happiness and not for something else. I hope this is also a lesson for all parents to provide good guidance and oversight for their children in developing healthy success and control over their lives. Financial reward and popularity can be positive, but it is always going to be difficult for an growing child to handle these issues.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

I think it's good to see people like her trying to make young girls aware that what's on social medias is no more real than what is in magazines. Because so many people tend to think photographers and retouchers are evils photoshopping models… the reality is, models photoshop themselves often times, even for Instagram pictures! I've had models asking me for Photoshop lessons.
However, I find hard to believe all she's saying. She is claiming that social medias are bad, but she's using them to share the word… I hope I am wrong, but it looks very much like she's trying to creating a buzz to make some money out of her website. It'd be genius on a business standpoint, but really sad on a human/social level.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I can't help but wonder if this is true. Regardless, though, if it is, its a pretty gutsy move to turn down a career path with sure road ahead of her (modelling contracts, sponsors, etc) for a strategic ploy such as this that may work out, but may also spark and fall into nothingness.

Playing, devil's advocate though, if she is, indeed, 100% genuine and not trying to make a business play at all she probably is well aware that whether she hates social media or not, its really the only venue to get her message out beyond a tiny sphere of friends. Tbh, thats why I'm on social media, eliminate a need to promote my photography and I'd delete all my profiles tomorrow and never look back. A necessary evil.

Percy Ortiz's picture

her asking for money so she can "cope with life" doesn't help her cause in my opinion

Ryan Cooper's picture

I tend to agree, though tbh I guess it is kinda expected given that our society seems to be transforming into a beggar society. Look at the rise of Kickstarter and Patreon. ;)

Bill Peppas's picture

at least some kickstarters did some homework, have some prototypes, spent some time on something that at least seems to be useful to some or many people.

What has she done to benefit the world or even just 1-2-3-4-5 people ?
Nothing.
She put make-up on, dressed to kill, smiled and took a selfie.

"Hey! Give me money because I'm beautiful!"

Bill Peppas's picture

bang on Quentin.

1st she begs for money
2nd she "plugs" her new website where... she "sells" herself through... social media again

She has no money, no job, she lives in a country where you can't say that they have an unemployment/jobs problem, she "realized" that she was a nobody pretending to be somebody, yet, instead of applying for a job, she begs for free money ( donations! ) and continues to try making money out of thin air through her new website that has nothing to offer truly.

We can only hope that the whole nut clan refferd to as "the kardashians" will take a cue and they too disappear off into the sunset

Bill Peppas's picture

No! no! no! They'll pollute and destroy the sunset!

Leigh Miller's picture

Will she now give back all the money she was paid along the way?

If not, this discussion is done. Resigned to the trash where it belongs.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Not sure I follow, that was her job for several years, it paid her rent, filled her, albeit tiny, stomach, etc. If a marine later in life decides to become a pacifist would you expect them to give all their salary back that they earned while part of the military?

Anonymous's picture

Well......not surprising that someone with absolutely no talent wakes up one day and realizes.......they have absolutely no talent! Most just continue to "fake it till they make it". It's called "the imposter syndrome" Truly talented people have episodes of it and have a hard time getting over it. The empty, vapid talentless social media stars and starlets ( IE Kardashians) wake up every morning realizing their worlds exist on the whim of the general public. They are disposable and a pimple on the ass of celebrity. This girl realized she offers nothing and decided to tell us she does before we told her.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Are you arguing that she should feel bad because she born with some random genetic of beauty instead of some random genetic gift of talent? She clearly has proven she is willing to work hard to achieve, just like any other creative professional. She has just adopted new awareness that suggests she was investing that effort in the wrong area. Its hard to define her as talentless. There are an awful lot of beautiful women out there, there aren't many who have 500,000+ followers, she must have some talent at marketing that puts her above the vast majority of other women who won the genetic lottery and also are obsessed with instagram. Every model I have ever worked with is obsessed with Instagram, many of them have been so longer than she has, none of them have 500k followers. It may not be a talent that you respect, but it is a talent nonetheless.

Anonymous's picture

don't confuse talent with looks. just because she looks the way she does doesn't mean she has any skill or craft. many beautiful women work relentlessly at becoming great dancers, actresses, singers and yes, even models. some just sit in front of their cameras and milk the beauty they are born with. Facebook, twitter and instagram have led them to believe that friends and followers equal fame and celebrity, celebrity equals talent, so I must have some talent. That's where the imposter syndrome kicks in. They know they have no talent, and they wake up every day praying the rest of the world hasn't figured it out. But eventually the world gets bored with it and says "next!" real talent is immune to that. She shouldn't feel bad, but she also shouldn't feel entitled. Just the fact she posted this video tells me she is delusional.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Looks are NOT enough to amass a following that large. Instagram is absolutely jam packed with women just as attractive as her, that post just as often as her, as obsessively take selfist just like she did. Yet she ended up in the top ~0.1%. That takes more than just looks, it takes a talent for marketing that is superior to her MILLIONS of competitors trying to do the exact same thing as her.

This isn't some Kardashian or Hilton that got a free skyrocket to fame thanks to the talent or wealth of their family. This is someone that built her entire brand from nothing.

To do what she did, in the way she did it, requires looks, absolutely, no doubt about it. But thats just a pre-requisite. Just like how all photographers need to know how to use a camera. That doesn't make them Joe McNally.

To amass 500k active, real, followers that sponsors want to connect with require a skill at self branding that is incredibly rare. One I wish I had.

PS: Real talent isn't immune to that feeling. The most talented artists are some of the most insecure.

Anonymous's picture

Uh,,,,,,the Kardashians built a huge empire from nothing. There was no money there. the sad part is......even if she decided to continue, next week some other pretty girl would be no.1. There's an old hollywood joke that so applies here. "knock Knock" Who's there? "Essena O'neil" Essena O'neil who? "That's show business!"
i do give her credit for one thing though: she jumped out of the plane before it crashed......because it was going to crash.

Ryan Cooper's picture

The Kardashians got started partly via a sex tape with a rapper, and partly because of their wealthy father's public accessibility to the OJ Simpson trial. Certainly much less of a free ride than Hilton but they also weren't some random kid from some middle class home that had a dream. I would argue, thought, that, they, too have a lot more "talent" than some people make them out to have. Its just not necessarily the sort of talent people seem to think you should need to be famous.

Anonymous's picture

...

"Well......not surprising that someone with absolutely no talent wakes up one day and realizes.......they have absolutely no talent!"

You seem to be reacting to your own personal introspection there, and I find it a deplorable self-help therapy method to be honest.

Ironic when a person in a profession that thinks they are providing the talent, while everyone else is just there to shut up and look pretty because they have none... and then complains that everyone thinks they themselves lack talent because all they do is click a button.

Check yourself.

Ingemar Kenyatta's picture

They don't live on the whim of the general public. The general public doesn't decide what is hot. The public responds to the trends and standards put forward by corporations seeking to profit. These stars live by the agenda of corporations making billions off the insecurities of their followers and admirers. The followers and admirers are hardly making the decisions. They (we) are pawns as well.

Anonymous's picture

oh but they do live on the whim of the general public. that's who pushes that "follow" button.
the general public absolutely decides who is hot! who do you think buys the fashion mags, goes to the movies, clicks on the links on social media. Here today gone tomorrow.

Now show us your portfolio of unattractive women. Because if you practice what you preach, you don't want to shoot photos of beautiful women, just because they are beautiful.