“Having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life,” 18-year-old Internet star Essena O’Neill declared in an emotional YouTube video announcement about her decision to quit the social platforms that brought her fame and fortune.
The Australian teen has 600,000 Instagram followers, 60,000 Snapchat followers, nearly 270,000 YouTube subscribers, and about as many on Tumblr. She had a modeling contract in Australia, and was paid to shill products on her social accounts. But in her video, she reveals she reached a breaking point: “Everything I did was for likes, for views, for followers.”
O’Neill has deleted most of her Instagram photos, and changed the name of her account to “Social Media Is Not Real Life.”
“I quit social media for my 12-year-old self,” she says in her video, bare-faced, hair in a bun, eyes welling with tears. “When I was 12, I told myself I meant nothing, that I was worthy of nothing, because I wasn’t popular online, because I wasn’t a model, because I wasn’t beautiful by society’s standards.”
In the course of her more than 17-minute video, O’Neill shares that she’s starting a new site called “Let’s Be Game Changers.” She’ll be uploading daily inspirational video Monday through Friday using Vimeo, which she writes is more value-based than YouTube. She’ll also be sharing some of the modeling photos that made her famous online and explaining the stories “behind the image.”
“There is nothing cool about spending all your time taking edited pictures of yourself to prove to the world ‘you are enough.’ Don’t let numbers define you. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not enough without excessive makeup, latest trends, 100+ likes on a photo, ‘a bikini body’, thigh gap, long blonde hair. I was born into the flesh I have, there is nothing inspirational about that,” she wrote on her new site after she saw the outpouring of support and coverage of her new venture.
O’Neill is also a vocal vegan and animal rights activist. She is challenging her fans to stay off social media for one week, to have real conversations with friends and family, to spend time outside, and to find their true passion, offline.
“I am just so grateful to think of how many young men and women might see this movement and stop limiting themselves to artificial ideas of happiness online.”
Screengrab via Essena O’Neill/YouTube