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.

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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Previous comments
Anonymous's picture

you're right! i don't want to work with actresses just because they are beautiful. i want to work with actresses that are beautiful and worked their asses off in acting classes, movement classes, beautiful women that invested themselves in a profession and put in the 10,000 hours to be the best actress in the audition. being an Instagram model isn't a career.

if you really want to see my stuff. here it is.

aaronbratkovics's picture


Mike Freestone's picture

Her message of young women finding beauty within themselves and not in a magazine; amazing. Her message of pursuing happiness rather than continuing along in a career where you are completely unhappy; fantastic.

Everything else is tough to listen to, because of the hypocrisy of the video's end goal. Just because you mention that it's embarrassing to use this video to ask for money, doesn't make it better.

Every day people realize they are unhappy and need to start over, but are not given handouts by the general public.

Wish she was only sending the meaningful messages.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Who is she? Well...i never knew about her... now i know, in the best way possible.

Darren Humphries's picture

While I think what she is going through is certainly heart felt I can't help but feel it's really more about naivete. The reality is that we are ALL used for what we do well, whether it's modelling, photography, accounting, marketing, writing, etc. Very few of us are building something that is substantial or ultimately significant. We almost all work for others just so we can pay the bills and hopefully have some fun outside of work.

Essena is upset that what she is doing doesn't have tangibility or impact in the way she wants it. That doesn't make what she does insignificant or pointless as clearly there are a lot of people that enjoy what she does (or she wouldn't have all these followers). This doesn't make Social Media bad or fake or pointless at all, it just means that it is the only thing she is known for and she wants more of a voice in other areas.

Again, it's naive of her to think that her feelings of inadequacy are because of Social Media's intangibility. She should just use it as a platform to be heard. Do something different with the podium you've been given, Essena.

Prefers Film's picture

She could follow in Audrey Hepburn's shoes, and be both a beautiful person, and work with charities. Leverage your skill for the good of society.

B Jones's picture

My Grandmother used to say, "If you're worried about what people think of you, don't worry, they probably aren't." This to me epitomizes what's wrong with the current crop of 'social media' users.

Spy Black's picture

Let's see how she feels when all the money runs out.

Rob Barnes's picture

If shes asking for money, sounds like it already has started to. Message was good until she asked for cash.

Travis Alex's picture

Mmm. I have to admit. I'm split on this.

One side of me is really happy she is standing up for what she believes in, as well as her ability to become self aware. It's a huge step for not only herself, but for a large community of women selling their image for financial gains and followers. Hopefully her message will make a lot misguided hearts sink a bit, making them think more about ghe choices they make.

On the other side, I don't really for that bad for her. For every choice you make, thier are consiqeunces for them. Did she really not have the forsight to see how building up an image based off nothing but looks would have any negetive impact? Was she so shallow and ignorant to the idea she could get hurt? This was her job, and her business, and proper business should have an understanding of risk managment. Every successful person knows when to take a break and seek guidence. She clearly reached a point so scenic, she became high on her own supply and lost herself. She has no one to blame but herself for that. Get an assistant, manage your time, don't bite off more than you can chew. Plain and simple.

I've never heard of this girl, but she reminds me of celebrity musicians who make it big, and sucomb to drug addictions to cope. Hopefully she wont reach that point.

She is just one of thousands of profiles like this on IG, and it's going to take a lot more than her stopping for girls like her to park their egos. Why should they? The kardashians make Millions being abosolute morons, whats the incentive for any of girl like her to stop when a company will pay you $10,000 to endorse bras? I would happily take $500 to just drop a name ona youtube video, but id be smart enough to know the risk in that, that's the difference and missed point here.

Best of luck in her future endevours.

Rafal Wegiel's picture

I don't think its the Social Media fault....its how we use it. I deeply believe that Social Media can do amazing things but also if we use it not the right way it can really harm people but again its entirely up to us which direction we decided to go.

She reach the point where she totally lost control over her emotions and now she is trying to find something to blame. I get some of her points but if We look closely she really needs work on her approach to nobody makes You happy except yourself. She was keep saying We should go to park, coffee shop...seems that she is saying that to herself not to the audience...

I really don't understand why she is trying to fight social media... its not going away...We need just start learning how to use it properly ... not only to proof the world how cool and beautiful we are....

rodrigo cacho's picture

I'm I the only one that's kind of offended by her money begging ?

Ryan Cooper's picture

Offended seems like an odd choice of words? Disappointed maybe? How is it offensive to you?

rodrigo cacho's picture

I couldn't find another word to describe it. Maybe I found it offensive because I know people that are in actual need of help and they are not asking for free money, I feel that she just had an emotional breakdown, there're lots of ways out of her situation, Also, she is not being congruent by asking money through social media just after criticising social media status.

Didri Etholm's picture

I'm 28, I was one of the first to be on facebook when it went public. However, 2 years I quit facebook and I haven't looked back. It was much easier then I thought it would be. The entire social media sphere has become entirely too monetized. But I hope it will swing back the other way.

Brian Wilson's picture

Good on her for getting out of it... but really i don't care. I have zero sympathy for people who put themselves into rough situations then cry about it when it's too much. From my understanding no one forced into this.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Fair enough, but I think anyone can probably attest to the fact that something they wanted when they were 12 didn't turn out to be quite what they expected. Sometimes it is very difficult to predict the side effects that happen upon achieving something until you do it.

Greg Marshall's picture

I feel bad for her that she's reached this crisis point. I hope she finds her way once she works through it.

As a 'celebrity' though, I find it hard to feel like this is somehow social media's fault. She built up her own celebrity for its own sake. It's not the fault of the tools she used that she never found something meaningful to say or a valuable way to use it.

Is measuring your worth by popularity alone toxic? Yes. It's true in high school social cliques, and it's true later in life.

She had built up a big platform to get her message out. She was still largely in control of what she was deciding to say. So much so that she could just torch it without any real repercussions.

Rather than burn it all down like that, maybe she could have taken a breather for a little while (losing a bunch of her reach, but not all of it), had some life experiences, and come back to it when she had something she wanted to use it for? Heck, with name recognition alone I'm sure she could still do that, even if she loses 100% of her current followers.

Complaining that social media is a business is showing a little naivete. *Someone* has to pay for all the big shiny servers that hold all your posts, and cover the development costs of the software that runs on them.

Social still offers a way for people without huge monetary resources but extra creativity and motivation to reach an outsized audience. Yes, Nike and McDonalds have shown up to the party, but it's not as restrictive a tool as many.

Johan Westerlind's picture

Everyone thinks this is brilliant and after a week you upvote exactly the same pictures... The most content of this site seems to be about good looking naked girls with skins photoshopped to perfection. Come on..

Ryan Cooper's picture

Our homepage displays the 16 most recent posts below the content carousel. At this very moment there are exactly 2 posts that have anything to do with beautiful girls. Neither of which are focused around "good looking naked girls with skins photoshopped to perfection". Page 2 of the most recent posts only has 1 of 16.

Not to say we never cover topics relating to that but I'd hardly call that "most" content ;) Perhaps you are biased to only clicking on posts with pretty girls in the thumbnail?

Prefers Film's picture

I could take issue with the "World-famous" in your title... :)

Ryan Cooper's picture

How so?

The definition of "famous" is "to be known by many people", 500,000 certainly qualifies as "many people", "world" suggests those many people are from many countries around the world, which is also true, her following is not restricted to any single country.

Geoffrey Badner's picture


Timothy Poulton's picture

Boo hoo, give her 2 months!

Ralph Hightower's picture

Who is she? Has she made it to the inside of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition? or Victoria's Secret?

No? Then I don't know who she is.

Gustavo Ferlizi's picture

Big stir in the shit pot.

John Skinner's picture

It's one of those odds parts of life you see play out day after day as you get older... People growing up.

This world of fantasy that kids live in anymore is really been blow all out of proportion with Instagram, YouTube, Facebook.. It's kind of insane where you hear kids on their late teen and early twenties REALLY think they're going to be 'someone'.. When even IF you did become somewhat known like this girl did. It's all made-up and make-believe.

Even people in movies (the smart wise ones) know... ' it's all just a game '.

Maybe she'll go on to doing something real with her life and making it a better place to live for...someone.

Anonymous's picture

And Boom....she is gone! next!

Joacim Schwartz's picture

And in two weeks, everyone will have forgotten about this story and move on with their lives.

Steffen lock Nilsen's picture

So she is a model, that didn't want to be a model anymore?

we are having a discussion about this why?

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