Last night as I scrolled through Facebook, I stumbled across a link about a former social media model who had announced she would be deleting her accounts and focusing her energies on speaking out against an industry that she says is “not real life.”
I think that on some level, we all know that social media isn’t entirely “real.” As you scroll through your feed, you are looking at the highlights of someone’s life – the moments that they want featured. Not only that, but pictures never tell a full story. Especially pictures that have been cropped, posed and filtered.
From the time she was 12, Essena O’Neill began amassing followers on Instagram and Youtube. By age 18, the Aussie had half a million followers on Instagram and more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. Brands paid her anywhere from $200-$2,000 dollars to post photos with their products.
A few days ago, Essena announced she was done with social media – she went back and deleted most of her photos from Instagram but kept a few. She edited their captions to reveal the truth behind the Instagram.
There are many people who will say Essena’s actions are just a way to gain even more attention for herself – after all, she’s already been contacted by places like Good Morning America and The Today Show. But after scrolling through her Instagram and reading her recently edited captions I was incredibly moved by a few in particular.
The topics that Essena is shining a spotlight on are important ones and they don’t just apply to people with thousands of followers. ere are 8 images I found particularly powerful. They made me stop, and think and I hope you will too.
8 Things Essena O'Neill's Re-Captioned Photos Make Us Think About
Why Are You Posting This?
Often, a caption on Instagram is the least telling piece of information. While Essena's original caption was about her skirt - her edited caption reveals what most people probably noticed when they looked at the picture - her toned stomach and tiny waist. And surprise surprise, that was her real reason for sharing it. Before posting on Instagram, we should probably stop for a second and think about our intentions. And if those intentions are completely self-absorbed, maybe we should give our post a second thought.
How Much Time and Energy Our Youth (And Our Own Generation) are Wasting on Social Media
This made me so very sad. I look at myself, in my mid-twenties, and know that even I spend far too much time caring about social media. Far too many times each and every day I scroll through my Instagram feed instead of calling a friend to say I miss them or using my brain to think about something important. And I didn't grow up with this. Instagram came around when I was in college. Yet today, elementary school girls and boys aren't passing notes in class and playing kickball at recess - likes and followers are what they are focused on and it is only going to get worse as they get older. I can't imagine if my 11 year old self had images like this to compare myself to on a daily basis. I really can't, and it makes me so sad for these kids that grow up thinking this is what they have to aspire to.
The Insecurity That Comes From Placing Your Identity in Physical Features
Essena's caption in this photo may not make a ton of sense - how can someone who looks like that claim to be insecure?
But to place your self-worth and your identity in something as artificial as your body typically means that you are lacking confidence in who you are as a person - you are insecure in your worth as a person on a much deeper level.
To wake up in the morning and base your self-worth on a line down the middle of your stomach is to feel that that's the only reason the people around you approve of you. And it is to constantly fear what will happen if that body changes. Which - for a 16 year old girl - it undoubtedly will.
Why Are We So Hungry For Other's Approval?
Essena admits that the photos she posted were painstakingly perfected to garner approval from faceless Instagram users.
Tell me I'm not the only one who has joked with a friend about needing to get to at least 11 likes on Instagram so that the number appears instead of usernames. How sad is that, really?
Maybe if we all stopped staring at our screens and complimented the real live people standing in front of us, they wouldn't feel so hungry for validation on social media. Tell your bus driver when she's having a nice hair day. Compliment a coworker on their outfit. We should care more about these genuine words from people more than we care about quasi-friends double tapping a screen as they sit on the subway to let you know that your #tbt caught their eye.
Candid Moments Are Far and Few Between
When is the last time someone took a true "candid" picture of you? I hate to admit it, but I am incredibly guilty of setting up these "carefree" looking moments.
"Take a picture of me doing a headstand on the beach!" is a lot different than having fun doing a headstand on the beach only to later find out that your friend happened to snap a picture.
"Do it for the insta" is a real thing that we really say. How about we just do the things we love because we love to do them?
Why Are We So Obsessed With How We Look?
That's a rhetorical question because, of course, this is a huge topic that our society continues to struggle with. Advertising, eating disorders, restrictive dieting and excessive exercising - these topics are inescapable today.
We are still talking about them because they aren't easy to wrap our heads around. There's no quick fix for these societal struggles. We are told to be body-positive, to love the skin we're in. We are told that "strong is the new skinny."
On one hand, seeing girls who are proud of their bodies is wonderful. But there's a fine line between someone who has worked hard and is proud of what they've accomplished to someone who is terrified of losing their toned stomach. There's a fine line between fitness imagery that inspires and fitness imagery that promotes unrealistic goals and unhealthy habits.
We Need to Reassess Our Goal-Setting
As Essena's re-captioned photo illustrates - this should not be anyone's goal. Yes we all want to look and feel our best but why not try making your goal 10 push-ups in a row without stopping instead of, "more defined shoulder muscles." I promise you - nothing about your life will change when you have a six-pack. But something will change when you find something you love doing - like crossfit or training for a marathon. Something will change when you meet new people while enjoying that new activity. Something will change when you compete in your first crossfit competition or run your first marathon. You will gain a way to handle stress, you will gain confidence, you will gain a new outlook on life. And somewhere along the way, maybe your physical appearance will change. But that's not what the focus should be.
There's Always a Story Behind The Smile
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But a posed and forced smile is almost always hiding the real story.
Really think about these things.
I'm not expecting us all to go delete our social media accounts and swear off Instagram forever.
But I do think these things deserve some serious thought. I, for one, was disgusted at some of the things I've posted in the past and have removed some photos from my Instagram.
There's no need to perpetuate feelings of insufficiency among beautiful, smart, charismatic, funny women because they don't own the same material things as you, have the same physical appearance as you, or spend as much time in the gym as you. And even more importantly, there's no need for you to feel like you're better than anyone else for any of those things.