It’s undeniable that the glorious image sharing app that is Instagram has given us a whole new breed of celebrity. From fitness aficionados to beauty bloggers and anyone with a standout USP, it’s made stars of people that were normal everydayers before the launch of the social media platform.
However, reaching the top on Instagram isn’t easy – it takes dedication and a hell of a lot of posing to get the art of the Insta-snap down. And earlier this week an Instagram star, with a whopping half a million followers, completely threw in the social media towel. The Instagrammer question was Essena O’Neill, an 18-year-old from Australia, who was a regular teen who just so happened to amass a HUGE following on Insta, as well 200,000 followers on YouTube and Tumblr and 60,000 on her Snapchat with her selfies, outfit posts, and fitness photos. However, all of those accounts have now been deactivated after she decided she was totally done with social media. However, a fellow social media star has weighed in on the debate, and disagrees with a few of Essena’s key points. Here’s her open letter to Essena, which has since gone viral…
‘Hi, it is so nice to virtually meet you, I’m Lauren. I write this open letter not only to you, but to everyone who uses social media. When I first watched your video I was flooded with countless emotions — we are/were on a similar career and life path, and even are around the same age, so I am able to really relate to a lot of the points you made in your video. What sticks out to me the most, though, is the overwhelming amount of pressure you experienced: the pressure to get likes, to look perfect, to gain followers and, in a nutshell, to prove your worth to yourself and others.’
‘There’s absolutely no denying that sometimes I will whiten the background of my photos for hours, or do photo shoots solely for Instagram. What I constantly strive to keep in mind, though, is to always make the time to live the actual experience simultaneously. If I’m doing something fun I will take a picture for Instagram, but I’m still having fun, I’m not only focused on posting the Instagram. I get to have time to myself, but my supporters remain in tune with my life. That balance is what makes my position in the space healthy to me.’
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‘I have always used social media in the same ways my friends do: I enjoy sharing photos and videos that entertain my friends and family and show my life and personality. Somewhere along the way, I found myself able to entertain millions of “followers” who in turn become supporters (sometimes). It’s the most amazing and rewarding feeling in the world — I have an impact on other people. The ability to make someone laugh, to take her mind off her problems, to have a discussion and make deep connections– that’s what makes my job beautiful and comfortable for me. On the flip side, there’s something to be said for the internet space in general: it was never safe, even going back to cyber-bullying on AOL Instant Messenger. The more people who see me, the more judgement I open myself up to. I’ve developed a thick skin to cope with the hate because there’s so much more positive that overweighs the negative, and I am genuinely obsessed with what I do.’
‘Two years ago, when I hit my first million followers, the word “role model” started to get consistently thrown my way during interviews. It was never my intention to be looked up to; I was creating videos and doing what I wanted to do because I was having fun. But suddenly I had to deal with that pressure. Yes, sometimes I’ll edit out a pimple before posting a selfie, but I embrace my flaws and speak about them openly all the time. I am the same Lauren Giraldo that I was at 30 followers, and I’m confident my supporters/subscribers can attest to this. My goal is for anyone who follows me to see me as a virtual friend; friends see your flaws, your insecurities, your weak spots, and they love you anyway. Of course there are things that are very personal that I don’t always share, but that’s exactly how I am with my immediate friends, providing myself with a sense of privacy — isn’t that only human?’
‘I support the idea that brands/organisations should value a creator’s opinions and creativity. There have been jobs that have said “here’s a bullet point list of things you need to hit,” and if I’ve felt uncomfortable I’ve said no. At the end of the day, a job can only be as pure as you allow it to be. I’ve turned down jobs before — whenever I don’t believe in something, I turn it down.’
‘The key to finding happiness in any job is to be transparent with everyone around you. In my case, my fans value and love me for who I am, not a photo of mine that required some editing. The best way to do this is to put out what you actually care about, whether the public likes it or not.’
‘It’s unfair for you to shame social media for being fake, and being a lie. Sometimes I wear dresses and I post a picture to Instagram and tag the brand without ever being paid to wear them, I just like them and want my followers to know that. We all have access to the same apps, websites, blogs, etc, it’s up to us to be as genuine (or not) as we choose. It’s what we do with these apps that defines our authenticity.’
‘Not everything you see on social media is fake, and it is unfair to say everyone on the Internet wants money, because that’s not true. Social media praise might have once been the key to your happiness, but that’s not what being a influencer is about for everyone. For me, it’s doing a job that I love and I am obsessed with. Social media gives me the opportunity to be creative, to make people laugh, and have my voice heard.’
This open essay comes as, earlier this week, Essena went on to delete 2000 photos, renamed her account to ‘Social Media Is Not Real Life,’ and changed the captions on the photos she left behind with truthful revelations about posts she was paid for, how many tries it took to get the perfect shot, and the pressures she felt to look Instagram-ready at all times.
In one of her posts, which shows Essena laying on the beach in a bright orange bikini, she revealed: ‘NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals’. Paints quite the picture, doesn’t it?
In another, she can be seen wearing a stripy dress and sipping on a glass of juice. However, as Essena goes on to explain, the post wasn’t all that innocent… ‘Was paid $400 to post a dress. That’s when I had maybe 150k followers, with half a million followers, I know of many online brands (with big budgets) that pay up to $2000 per post. Nothing is wrong with accepting brand deals. I just think it should be known. This photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing (I was uneducated at the time). SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL is my point. Be aware what people promote, ask yourself, what’s their intention behind the photo?’
‘I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance,’ O’Neill writes in her last Instagram post on October 27th, ‘[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers. it’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement.’
She continued, ‘How can we see ourselves and our true purpose/talents if we are constantly viewing others? Many of us are in so deep we don’t realise [social media’s] delusional powers and the impact it has on our lives.’
And while O’Neill has turned her back on the social media platforms that constantly rely on followers and likes validate an individual, she is open to new forms of social media that don’t work off these ‘values’ she writes, on her newly launched site Let’s Be Game Changers, ‘BUT PLEASE CAN SOMEONE MAKE A SOCIAL SHARING PLATFORM NOT BASED ON VALIDATION IN VIEWS/FOLLOWERS/LIKES BUT SHARED FOR REAL VALUE AND LOVE. THANK YOU. PLEASE HURRY UP.’
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