The recent articles about Essena O’Neill’s partial exodus from social media wants us all to feel like idiots for believing anything we see on social media. Is blindly believing a confused 19 year old girl any better?
To be honest, I didn’t know how to begin this article. I have so much I want to say. I initially wrote a status on my personal Facebook outlining my thoughts and feelings, but I felt like I wanted to use my blog for the purpose it is intended: for me to have a voice.
For a little background, Essena O’Neill, a 19 year old Australian “instafamous” girl had an epiphany of sorts, and then stated publicly that she was deleting social media for good, because it “isn’t real life”. People were quick to praise her for being brave and taking such a strong stance in outing social media for the so called “fakery”. This morning I woke up to my entire Facebook feed saturated with photos of her and every major news website from NY Times, the BBC, to The Daily Mail had picked up the story. It was spreading like digital wildfire – clearly her “plan” has succeeded.
I have a lot to say about the way she went about it. I feel there’s an inherent hypocrisy in using her popular social channels to tell people social media is a lie. If you truly believe social media to be so shallow, you stop posting without the fanfare. Leaving with such a song and dance leads me to believe she has done this for ulterior motives which I’ll touch on later. Some would argue that she announced it so she could initiate a conversation and people would begin to see social media for the falseness and the lies. Let’s be real for a moment here, who in 2015 doesn’t realise Instagram is a curated version of people’s lives?
At this point I feel it’s become a cliche to deride social media as “not real life”. The mainstream media loves to push articles that tell us things we already know, so we can say “I already knew that” and feel a little smarter. You already know that people aren’t their Instagram feed. Social media as a whole isn’t a lie, it’s how you choose to portray yourself and if you choose to create a false representation of yourself, then you, yourself are the lie. Social media is a daily online escape for people and I think that is okay.
O’neill has created a narrative about people who work online, on social media, et al, that isn’t accurate for everyone who uses it and unfortunately for the people who use social media for a positive influence, or in a different way to the way she has, she has painted them in a negative light that just isn’t correct. You can’t speak for the masses just because you’re unhappy with your own life. Not everyone lives a blatantly obvious manufactured life. Not every blogger is promoting a brand when they post a photo on Instagram, not every person is being paid for an instagram post – and if you are, then quite frankly you’re a complete sell out. Maybe that was Essena’s problem, maybe she realised she was selling out.
Social media is a powerful force – it can empower or give a voice to a individual or a group who would have been marginalised. It can help people gain confidence in themselves and promote positive messages. Take some of Instagrams biggest fitness influences for example. Think of how many people Kayla Itsines, Felicia and Diana of Base Body Babes and Tara Stiles have helped gain self-confidence and control of their lives. My theory is: If you choose to spend a day taking a photo in a bikini on an iPhone (one claim amongst many that seems pretty dubious) and pass it off as good content / while happily taking the company’s money for it, then that is on you. Maybe you should take a look inward and reflect on how you use your time. I’m sure she felt so guilty she returned all the money.
Social media has helped me find my voice, and it has allowed me to collaborate with fantastic individuals, creatives and brands and it has allowed me to create a career for myself, through networking, dedication and a lot of hard work. Don’t get me wrong though, I know all too well that social media can have a negative effect on people. A year and a half ago I wrote an article on The Pressures Of Social Media. I touched on the “common misconception”, my “love / hate relationship with social media”, how I like to “keep it real”. I also mentioned that I too had crappy days where I felt like I had to compare myself to other people on social media. I have since learned that social media can be whatever you want it to be. If you choose to use it in a positive, wise way, social media is a positive, wise endeavour.
If you’re a brand or an individual using social media, you’re putting an image out to the world. If you’re building an unrealistic image of yourself; eg. as someone who is perfect and faultless, that’s not going to work. How are you meant to actually live up to that? If you choose to edit your life to come across seemingly perfect, then that is on you. If you feel that you are comparing yourself to others and you feel like you have to produce perfection all the time, it’s time you take a step back from who you are following and what you are getting out of those accounts. You’re the only person who can allow yourself to fall into a dark hole of falseness. You can’t blame social media – you have to take responsibility.
My biggest issue with the way Essena O’Neill went about things is on one hand she was depicting social media to be this murky, deceitful place, but if she really believed that, why in the same breath did she push a new agenda – pointing people towards her new Vimeo account and website (which I refuse to link to). I’m sorry, but why is she still promoting herself on social media? I can’t help but feel like Essena finally took the advice given to her by YouTube personality Duranrider, some four months earlier – she definitely did go global – You can view that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0sEfLGGC5E
In closing, there may be social pressures and media pressures, but that’s nothing new, they have always been there. Every generation has had their battles. In 2015, we’re just more accessible to things, so it is highlighted a lot more.
What it all comes down to is, some of us choose to post an accurate version of ourselves, and some choose to post an unrealistic portrayal of perfection. And for the people who try and be perfect, that’s your choice, of course that won’t be fulfilling or have longevity. No one ever said it would. It’s unattainable and no one has forced you to live in a make believe world.
It’s your choice.
Lastly, It’s interesting to see someone who is “done” with social media post an incredibly histrionic video on social media just this morning. The drama and duplicity of social media have apparently been stripped away and replaced with theatrics that would make the “leave Britney alone” guy embarrassed. I mean, was she crying all day? Did she wait until she was crying before she hit “record”. The whole exercise reeks of disingenuity. She says “she’s really happy with the attention her story is getting.” – I bet she is.
What I want you to take away from this article is consistency. Be who you are in your real life, online.
Images: Beginning Boutique and Google