Essena O'Neill is showing exactly how far life on social media is from real life—and she's getting support from Kayla Itsines and other fitspo stars
Social media is not real life. We all know this on some level—after all, who hasn't posted a "candid" selfie that took 50 shots and a retouching app to perfect? Yet when you see the beautiful, talented, fit girls on the internet, most of us still think of their photos as their reality. But one Insta It girl decided to pull back the curtain on perfection and really share what goes into all those glamorous pictures. (Find out Why "Fitspiration" Instagram Posts Aren't Always Inspiring.)
Essena O'Neill, a 19-year-old Australian, had it all—at least, she seemed to on her social media accounts, which were replete with stunning pictures of her working out, wearing designer clothing, sipping tea, and even doing yoga on the beach. But the teen says it was all a carefully curated facade and, worse, her glam online life was robbing her of a beautiful real life.
"We see luxurious living, genetically blessed people, we see new clothes, sexy workout wear, tight abs, toned thighs, perfectly styled hair, painted masks, spray-painted bodies. We don't see real life," she wrote, adding that she was "addicted to approval" and measured her self-worth in likes and comments. (How Bad Are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for Mental Health?)
O'Neill decided to get honest—really honest—with her fans and herself. She re-vamped her Instagram account with the message of "social media is not real life," posting her uber-popular pictures and re-captioning them to tell exactly what she'd done to get that perfect shot, how much she'd been paid for it, and how it made her feel.
In one picture, for example, she's modeling a stunning prom dress; her caption explains that she'd been paid hundreds of dollars to wear the dress and tag the brand. She added that she took hours trying for the best, most flattering shot and then edited it in three separate apps to get it just right. Her payoff for all that hard work? Instead of going on a magical date—as one would assume from the photo—she writes that "it all made me feel incredibly alone." (Is Social Media Making You Socially Awkward?)
Another photo, this time of her in a bikini, encouraged fans to ask themselves why someone would post a shot like that in the first place. "What is the outcome for them? Make a change? Look hot? Sell something?" she asked. "I thought I was helping young girls get fit and healthy. But then I realized that placing any amount of your self-worth on your physical form is so limiting. I could have been writing, exploring, playing, anything beautiful and real...Not trying to validate my worth through a bikini shot with no substance." And, of a workout selfie, she wrote, "A 15 year old girl that calorie restricts and excessively exercises is not goals."
Then she deleted all her remaining images and accounts.
"I can't tell you how free I feel without social media," she wrote. "Never again will I let a number define me. It suffocated me."
The move is being applauded by other It Insta girls. #Fitspo superstar and Shape favorite Kayla Itsines commended O'Neill for her bravery and honesty, writing about how she's had to create strict rules about what she posts so as not to fall into the same trap. "I want you to be the real you," Itsines wrote in an Instagram post on the topic. "My life, my food, my family isn't your life, everyone is different. I post these transformations to show you there are sooo many girls out there on so many different journeys. All with one goal, to be happy, healthy and fit! Don't strive to live like, or be like, one person on social media. Create your own self. Be honest. Stick to your morals .. and always try and be the best person you can be." (Check it: Kayla Itsines Shares Her 7-Minute Workout.)
O'Neill and Itsines are wise beyond their years—living a happy, healthy life will look different on every woman. Ultimately, it's what's underneath all the workout clothing and sweaty selfies that really matters. That's reality.