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
Jennifer Kelley's picture

I think what she is doing now is great. Social media in a very general sense is completely fake. We create false personas that only showcase ourselves when we are doing something fun or exciting or just being happy. It creates a competitive atmosphere of people trying to one up each other. There are rules and expectations that are ever evolving. 90% of the problems my friends talk to me about stem from social media. Their ex is doing this or that, their current SO has too many likes from women in bikinis, someone defriended them or won't add them, and would you believe we are all middle aged?! Admittedly I stepped away from social media altogether for a long while because frankly my life sucked and it seemed worse when I logged in and my friends had these amazing lives. As time went on, I learned they were only broadcasting the good, not the truth,

This girl has done what so many others need to do... step away from the computer/smart phone/tablet. There is no reason why a girl who is able to leverage a couple apps/website to her advantage resulting in that amount of money should have her entire self worth wrapped up in how many followers she has. She's obviously smart, driven, and should be able to make a kick ass living in marketing.

Neo Racer's picture

Shes made her money, she can now marry some super rich french executive lol

Neo Racer's picture

I have a model friend who now has 1.5 million followers on Facebook and she built that following all on her own. When I met her for her first shoot with me she was the geekiest of the geek, I wouldn't have guess what she could do thru self promotion so yea, pretty cool!

Bill Peppas's picture

I'm sorry to burst her and your bubble, but she's not quitting social media.
Instead she is trying to create her own.

"Blah blah blah, I'm pretty, blah blah blah, I made money easily just by putting on make-up and a nice dress, blah blah blah, facebook/instagram is bad, blah blah blah, I'm quiting the internet & social media, blah blah blah, I have no money please donate to me! blah blah blah, i'm publishing my own website from which I intend to make money by... talking about social media and how bad they are by simply doing the very same thing under my own website's name".

I'm sorry young lady, you haven't changed at all.

John Johnson's picture

I am a bit at a loss of words here. I want to say something, but don't want to appear crass or crude...let me try. You have here an attractive young woman who used social media as a vehicle to exploit and monetize her looks. She did so for a number of years, but now is having regrets and is even exposing what she was going through during certain images. She is complaining about the life of a paid model, it seems(I wanted to re-watch the video for clarity, but it had been removed). There is a simple solution--quit. I know this is crass, but really, she is exploiting herself so it should be relatively simple to escape this lifestyle. She came up with the idea of selling her looks, now she can work on developing job skills and learning a trade. My frustration as a photographer on social media is that I can work hard at my craft, spend thousands on my equipment and travel expenses for a shoot, get lucky with the conditions and land an epic shot, but at the end of the day the picture I get is going to get at best 1/1000th of the number of likes that a girl in a bikini at a beach is going to get--same for the number of followers. It's not entirely sour grapes on my part--the truth is that sex sells and to hear the complaints of someone who has long-profited from this system complaining to those who have worked at the other end of the spectrum doesn't elicit much sympathy. Again, I'm sorry if this sounds crass on my part, but maybe she shouldn't have tried monetizing her looks from the outset.

Ellen Schmidtee's picture

I think it's no more than a typical crises one has when growing up.

There's always some dishonesty or deception in advertising - that's the nature of the beast. Essena O'Neill started working in advertising without giving any thought to that, and fell into the trap of buying into the false image of her self she was selling. That made her measure herself by the number that measure how good an advertisement she is, rather than by her happiness and real life experiences.

[She was paid to create the illusion that she was using a certain product organically as part of her everyday life? Old news - Israeli newspapers have been covering that issue for decades, from the time advertisers made the product part of their life to make the advertisement ethical, to the point celebrities do it, and just don't want to talk about them doing so.]

IMHO, if she accepted she was self employed in the advertisement industry, and separated her real life from her cardboard-thin image she created for her job, she would be fine going back into the business. It does seem like, beside being too involved, she was doing a good job, e.g. in earning enough to make a living.

[OK, easier said than done. She might have burnt some or all of the bridges, and she might need to do some work on her self with her self or help from friends / family / whomever, my point being that she shouldn't buy into the "I am the persona I've put on line".]

Axel Robertson's picture

It is never too late to enter social media again. You can make popular even almost empty Instagram profile with . With its city-based search you can find a lot of followers right in your city, so, it is not so hard.