Ah, the age of social media, where everyone's obsession with the picture-perfect life couldn't be more obvious. Your Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of those photos showing how happy, carefree, and luxurious your friends' and not-so friends' lives are. And enter the pit of jealousy that swallows you whole. All who've believed the photos (they're proof, aren't they?) have experienced envy, have thought their own lives are so boring, of how unaccomplished they are, or how they can't seem to take that perfect-looking photo too ("What's the app to use for editing? What filter should I use? Will this photo or this photo get me more likes?").
Luckily some people have talked sense into us and in their own way made us realize that what we see photographed may be very, very different from the person's real life. A few users have come out in the past years about what was really happening in their photos or what they really wanted to say through their pics. Some, like this brilliant Barbie account, went as far as to mock the entire lifestyle and the photos that no longer show one's unique personality.
But we've never really heard from popular model Instagrammers. Not that we all have to, since previous efforts were clear and spot-on. But knowing what it's like for them does make the picture clearer—so much so that we might know whom/what to blame for all this insanity, and we'll see beyond any filter for "the life" or "the dream" we're fed with.
So meet Essena O'Neill, an Instagram-famous 19-year-old model. She's earned a huge following from her modeling, and she's now using that fame to expose how fake and staged her picture-perfect IG grid used to be. She's deleted most of her bikini selfies, but kept some of them and changed their captions to explain what was going on behind the scenes.
On the perfect bikini pic we make our #goals, she writes: "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"
In a similar photo she says: "PLEASE VALIDATE MY EFFORTS TO LOOK SEXY WITH MY BUM BEING THE POINT OF THIS PHOTO. I wish someone would have shook me and said 'You have so much more in you than your sexuality' at 16. That was all I thought others wanted, that's what got likes, that's what I thought was cool. There is nothing cool about this. This is a photo taken for the sake of trying to get people to like a photo. There is nothing inspiring about that. Social media is an illusion. #celebrityconstruct #behindtheimage"
On the toned body many of us covet, she writes: "The only thing that made me feel good that day was this photo. How deeply depressing. Having a toned body is not all we as human beings are capable of."
On that person on our feed being able to wear expensive clothes, she writes: "NOT REAL LIFE - I didn't pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram; the formal made me feel incredibly alone." She adds, "I was paid $400 to post a dress." She adds, "I know of many online brands (with big budgets) that pay up to $2,000 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?'"
On the editorial/fashion shot, she writes: "I love this dress for it makes me feel like a fairy. What wasn't captured was the long talks we had sitting on the beach waiting for golden-hour lighting. That's real life, this image is contrived beauty, not real."
On the beautiful, flawless selfie, she writes: "I had acne here, this is a lot of makeup. I was smiling because I thought I looked good. Happiness based on aesthetics will suffocate your potential here on earth."
She definitely covers a lot of things we see on our feeds that we can't help double-tapping and aspiring for in real life. Although she views things in black and white (can't something staged/contrived be "really" beautiful too, as in the case of her fairy gown shot?), her captions for every single photo give us a reality check, that shake on the shoulders and slap on the face we need when we think we're not good enough, when we believe that other people are so much better off, when we dislike ourselves and wish to be someone else.
In her website, Let's Be Game Changers, Essena pens "I found myself drowning in the illusion. Social media isn't real...It's a system based on social approval, likes and dislikes, validation in views, success in followers...It's perfectly orchestrated judgment. And it consumed me."
And let's be real too: Who among us aren't consumed by social media, the numbers of likes, hearts, and followers, and what other people think of us? What's extremely toxic is how social media places so much, if not the most, importance on appearances, and haven't we had enough of that thanks to the large fashion and diet ads and industries? Essena has. "I only realized at 19 that placing any amount of self-worth on your physical form is so limiting! I could have been writing, exploring, playing, [doing] anything beautiful and real...Not trying to validate my worth through a bikini shot with no substance."
And in case you missed it, we'll spell it out for you: You already have worth, and it's not based on your looks. You don't need people's validation. And if you go looking for it, you'll never be satisfied because you can't please everyone. Not to mention there are people who enjoy bringing others down.
It's okay to want to look conventionally hot or sexy. But as Essena advises, ask yourself what it's for. Ask yourself if what you think is a flaw of yours is really a flaw or is just something you were made to believe so. Ask yourself who'll truly benefit from your makeover: you or the brands you consume? Ask yourself what's truly worth your time. Are you too busy trying to look good that you let life pass you by? Like Essena, it's not too late to change how you live.
Essena has now made her Instagram account private, but you can hear more from her in her website Letsbegamechangers.com.
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