I’m not sure how many people know of Essena O’Neill; in fact, many of you may have just recently read her name because of the controversial statement she is currently making about how social media isn’t real and she isn’t who we think she is. However, I know a lot of people, such as me, have followed her online presence for a long time now – viewing her with minor celebrity status.
I won’t detail the progress of her popularity over the last few years, or the ins and outs of her sudden decision to ‘quit’ social media. However, if you’d like to know more I will link a few places to visit and find out for yourself.
I didn’t know how old Essena O’Neill was when I first looked through her Instagram and Tumblr, and as you would imagine if you’d seen them before a week ago, I assumed she was quite a bit older than me. She is not.
Now, she made a YouTube video recently, which she stated would be her last ever, and the contents of said video was extremely personal and emotional and therefore raw and imperfect (which is exactly what she wants to emphasise about herself). After seeing it myself, I read and listened to some of the responses and came to the realisation that a barely 19 year old girl got multiple negative responses to a video in which she completely bared all (literally: being make-up-free, as well as figuratively) and spoke about a very mature and moving revelation she has had: she wants to be more than just her appearance. She wants to create change and inspire. She wants to be real, and honest.
This is where I want to disclose that I fully sympathise with and support everything Essena has done and spoken about recently; and in fact throughout her entire social media career, also.
I first followed Essena’s Tumblr because she’s vegan. That was my main reason for being interested in her (that, and the artistry I could see in her photographs and the words she wrote) so I’m almost impartial to the general consensus that people follow her because she’s beautiful. But when I found out she was actually younger than me I was, not surprisingly, shocked. So I understand that because most people will consider her to be much older than she is they will treat her so. But I’m writing this because I wish people would have more sympathy and less judgement to supply.
As a just-turned-19 year old myself, I can safely sat that most of the things Essena is speaking up about are things I have also thought about and gotten upset over in the past few years. Anything she’s covered that I hadn’t realised myself has made me emotional when hearing because being just a few months older than her means that I can relate significantly to all of the crises she is having. When I first noticed that she had deleted most of her Instagram posts and edited the captions of the ones that remained, I read through each one and actually cried. The only difference is that she has grown up in the public eye. She made it that way for herself, obviously, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Growing up being known on social media and sharing your life with hundreds of thousands of people makes feeling inclined to publicise the breakdowns that most teenagers keep private inevitable. I really want to emphasise the fact that she is a teenager. She is an incredibly mature, intelligent, compassionate teenager who decided she wanted something and went out and got it for herself (which is more than I can say for myself) and now has the ability to realise it wasn’t good for her and is brave enough to give it up so suddenly. She may have manipulated her online image to seem older, sexier, more put-together, interesting, and spontaneous, but she is still only 19 and wants people to start realising that. After being treated as this emphasised version of herself for so long and being admired that way by so many people, I don’t doubt that Essena feels childish for making such a huge deal about trying to better herself. Instead, I think she should feel courageous and praised for it.
Essena, you will never read this, but if you could I would want you to know that what you’re going through is far more normal than you realise. Questioning everything you do and beginning to come to terms with who you want to be compared to who you think you’re becoming is practically a rite of passage for someone as intelligent as yourself. In your case, you may be giving up your career and source of income as a result of it, but I guarantee, with a brain like yours, and your ability to notice yourself and care about yourself the way you do, you will find your way. This is not the end of your career; this is the start of being true to yourself in a way that will only better you. Good luck, Essena O’Niell.