Instagram Star Essena O’Neill Gets Real

By Ilana Bernstein

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Former social media model Essena O’Neill wants you to see through the smoke and mirrors of those perceived picture-perfect images she and others have posted online. Behind the scenes of every gorgeous Instagram, the reality isn’t always so pretty.

Scroll through your social media feed, and you’ll find countless images of beautiful people who seem completely flawless. It’s easy to fall into an Insta-envy spiral. But once you move past the cosmetic attraction, there’s a lot more going on. Essena O’Neill, a 19-year-old Australian model, is making it her goal to expose the reality behind a glossy-glam image.

According to Elite Daily, Essena had well over a quarter million subscribers on YouTube, more than double that amount of followers on Instagram, and 60,000 friends on Snapchat. But after deciding to take a stand against social media, she deleted over 2,000 images—and followed it up by cancelling all her social media accounts. But before she did, she went through a bunch of notable images on her page and changed the captions to reveal what she was really thinking, feeling and experiencing at the time each photograph was taken.

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“I was miserable. Stuck. Uninspired. Angry,” Essena writes. “I didn’t enjoy the act of creating art, writing or any forms of self-expression like I once did as a child.” Now she’s launched her own website—, where she focuses instead on learning how to be present and experiencing life without the need for external validation.

I would never say you have to quit all together, but hey, why not just delete all the social media apps, disable your account, promise yourself not to use it online for just a week? See if you can do it! —Essena O’Neill,

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“I didn’t live in the real world, I lived through screens,” she explains. “And I created a celebrity construct of myself, believing it would bring me happiness. That couldn’t be further away from the truth…. I let numbers define me. So let this be very clear, I’m quitting social media for my 12-year-old self.”

The internet can be awesome when you know where to look, what to view, how to distinguish real stuff over just overly superficial advertised content… Why not try out some podcasts? Audio books? TED Talks? Documentaries? Make sure to check out stuff of substance, then stupid distractions don’t seem all that worthy of your time! —Essena O’Neill,

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Though there’s nothing wrong with moderate use of Instagram, Essena’s totally right. It can be all too easy to check out your feed and buy into the idea that striving for the appearance of physical perfection is…fun. Um, not! Next time you’re scrolling through and feeling FOMO (that’s fear-of-missing-out), remind yourself that not everything is always as it seems.

You have goals, dreams, interests and passions… Explore and nurture those. But also, fully plug off for hours and explore the big world outside… people-watch, see how the world works, explore trees, caves, oceans, parks… explore, dream, read and fuel your mind with substance and reality—not 2D artificial stuff made to make money. —Essena O’Neill,

What do you think of Essena’s move to ditch the Instagram life? Would you go on a social media purge?

Reprinted with permission from


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