18 Year Old Instagram Star Quits Social Media, Unmasks Dark Side of Internet Stardom
18 year old Instagram star Essena O’Neill recently quit social media in a tear-filled goodbye video posted to YouTube yesterday, citing the extreme, unrealistic expectations placed on young adults–especially young women. Titled “Why I REALLY am quitting social media,” she frames it as a video for her younger, 12 year old self. Her goodbye is tear-filled and quite emotional, and one can’t help but really feel for her. In the video, she illuminates the kinds of pressure placed on young internet stars today, especially young women.
Before I get into this, I want to say up front: you might not “agree” with the term “Instagram star,” but that doesn’t discount her story at all. It doesn’t change the fact that O’Neill is a young woman who’s undoubtedly faced a lot of pressure to maintain a certain image on social media–much, much more than one would expect from the normal, everyday pressures of social media.
She opens her video by saying:
I have a whole career built around social media. What I’m doing scares [the] absolute fuck out of me. I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know what’s gonna happen next, I have no idea how I’m going to make money, and yeah, last night I got really, really scared cause I was like, ‘Holy shit, I have all these messages, but how are people going to hear them?’
The messages she’s referring to are her messages of what she’s learned from having a career in social media. She’s referring to the outrageous things she felt pressured to do in order to maintain her image. You hear it all the time: people often go to outlandish lengths to present the best part of themselves in their social media presence. There’s an expectation that effort, energy, and time be expended in capturing the perfect selfie or check-in or witty one-liner, because the pressure of being judged is ever-present. That expectation — whether it’s self-imposed, or demanded by online followers, or (often) both — only increases as you gain more visibility online.
O’Neill is hoping her followers can learn from her own experience. She continues:
Taking myself off social media is a wake up call to anyone and everyone who follows me. I had the “dream life.” I had half a million people interested in me in social media–on Instagram, sorry–I had over a hundred thousand views on my videos on Youtube… to a lot of people, I “made it”… I was surrounded by all this wealth, all this fame, and all this power… and I was never more miserable.
Beyond all of this, as stated earlier, she speaks about how this video is for her 12 year old self. She recalls how when she was 12 she saw models and YouTube stars who “had all of these likes, all of these views, and followers, and I thought, ‘Damn, they would be so happy surrounded by all these people that love them and appreciate them… I want that.'”
It’s utterly heartbreaking to hear that last bit.
O’Neill has also deleted many of her photos from her Instagram account, saving a few. She’s changed the description in those accounts to describe the true story behind what went into contriving that photo.
Much of the reaction on the photos themselves have been people tagging other people to see the important, shocking descriptions. But there’s still a subset of people who are either denying it’s true or, well, still posting gross comments. Because hey, it’s still the internet.
O’Neill has started a new venture, called Let’s Be Game Changers, where she’s hoping to reach even more people with the hopes of decoupling self image from social media feedback.
A part of her latest message posted to the website reads:
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. When you stop comparing and viewing yourself against others, you start to see your own spark and individuality. Everyone has love, kindness, creativity, passion and purpose. Don’t let anyone sell you something different.
To conflate Likes and Favs (well, “Twitter Likes” now) and views with love is to set yourself up for disappointment. Having your career, your life, your everything dedicated to finding love in analytics and views is no way to live. That’s why O’Neill created this video, and it is with no small hope from her that she not only finds some closure out of this process for herself, but that she can reach out to anyone who might resonate with her story–because this isn’t just limited to internet stardom.
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