It has probably not escaped your notice in the last few days that a highly popular teenage internet personality has decided to quit social media and this has been a big deal. If this is news to you, here’s the lowdown.
Essena O’Neill is an nineteen year old from Australia who had as of last month “570,00+ followers on Instagram, 250,000+ subscribes on YouTube, 250,000+ on Tumblr and 60,000+ average views on Snapchat.” Through posting snippets of her daily life on her social media accounts she had essentially become a freelance model and she made around $2000 a month from paid endorsements in her photos- companies would send her items of clothing, water bottles, even tea and pay her to include them in her photos.
In a highly emotional video, Essena announced to all her followers that she was quitting social media. It may be tempting for some to dismiss what she did, but in a celebrity saturated culture, there is a lot of power to it. Essena re-edited the captions of some of her photographs to explain what was really going on in them and behind her seemingly effortless, flawless photos, it is apparent that each one required a lot of hard work.
The candid moments were staged, many shots taken over and over again to get the perfect one, and she edited her selfies with other apps. She talks about not having eaten all day in order to get the perfect body shot. This was all taking over her real, offline life and in a huge game change she decided to quit all of her social media.
*Please note that strong language is used in Essena O’Neill’s original video as well as on her new website.*
The attraction of social media personalities has originally been that they are ‘just like us’. They are not celebrities who already have all the fame and money. They are just normal teenagers, like the other teenagers that follow them. The playing field is even, but therein lies the danger. If everyone is just someone with a smart phone recording their life, why aren’t we all that successful, that pretty, that popular?
Whilst there has been a huge amount of commentary, speculation and reaction to this situation, I would like to suggest some pointers for how this story can be positively used to raise some good questions with other young people. If you are an adult who works with teenagers, it’s likely that they will know the story better than you do and are possibly over it already, but don’t let that stop you digging a little deeper into the subject. You might like to turn to these quotes taken from her new website which aims to explain the struggles she experienced behind her outwardly perfect life. Please don’t forget that this is an issue that affects guys as well as girls! The pressure to be perfect is experienced by many.
A few important quotes from the video:
“I found myself drowning in the illusion. Social media isn’t real. It’s purely contrived mages and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes and dislikes, validation in views, success in followers… it’s perfectly orchestrated judgement. And it consumed me.”
“I made myself into a machine that gave others what they wanted from me, never knowing or valuing my true self. I was lost to expectations, pressures and a fearful desire to be accepted. I was scared. I thought, ‘If others don’t like me, then I’ll have no value to this world.”
“This way of thinking trapped me and killed my creativity. It was like I was enslaved in everyone else’s opinions of me… I over-thought everything. I was miserable. Stuck. Uninspired. Angry.”
“I don’t want approval anymore, it traps me into thinking I need more and more and more. I don’t want to be liked or judged either. I want a place where I can give with no expectations or outcome. I don’t want followers anymore. I want a world of individual beings.”
“I put myself on this pedestal, encouraging others to look up at me. ‘Follow me! Look here, don’t look at yourself! Oh please just view me, like me, like what I like, buy what I was paid to sell, comment on me, give me attention, share me, tag me!’ It was like I put a torch to my face pretending it was the light from the sun.”
“When I finished school and especially when I was traveling there was a clear disconnect from myself and my true values due to the fear of not having and being enough. I subconsciously thought money would solve this craving for more.”
“So why did I feel so lost, lonely and miserable? Well, I wasn’t actioning my values. I wasn’t being myself, because I didn’t know how to.”
Questions for Discussion:
1.) What does being ourselves actually mean? How can we be ourselves?
2. ) Are we enough? Do we have to be enough? Who makes us enough? Where do we find our self-worth?
3.) Is there something that you love doing (a sport, hobby, creative activity) that you used to do when you were younger, but you don’t have time for now? Is there a possibility that you could reignite your passion for this?
4.) Does anyone know how much time they spend online a day? Do you think this is a problem?
5.) Have you ever had a time when you didn’t enjoy something because you were too busy putting it on social media?
6.) What is your opinion on what Essena has done? Does anything she says surprise you?
7.) What has God got to do with our self-worth?
You may wish to end your discussion by watching a short video such as The Father’s Love Letter in order to remind your young people of their infinite worth in the eyes of God! Leah Darrow also offers additional resources on this topic. Leah was once a contestant on America’s Next Top Model , but after she had a conversion similar to Essena’s changed her life and began to live for God.