A young Australian who gained fame on social media has published several videos calling online and mobile sharing platforms unhealthy and revealing the reality behind her closely-edited pictures and posts.
Essena O’Neill, 19, who has more than 700,000 followers on Instagram and 260,000 followers on YouTube, said she was paid up to $2,000 for posting pictures of herself on social media with certain products or wearing certain outfits. O'Neill is also under contract with international modeling agency IMG.
“I was surrounded by wealth, and fame, and power...and I had never been more miserable,” O’Neill said in one of her videos. “Let me tell you that having it all on social media means nothing to your real life. Everything I was doing was edited and contrived...I would meet people and take photos just for Instagram.”
O’Neill said that she had a wake-up call and eventually decided to launch a website called "Let’s Be Game Changers" that features a public forum on various health and lifestyle topics.
“I have a career in social media and it scares me,” she said, talking about the change. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next...my whole life changed when I did. I finally woke up.”
O'Neill has kept some of her old pictures on her Instagram account but changed the captions to reflect the new reality.
"I didn't pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram, the formal made me feel incredibly alone."
“Took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day."
Mental health and body image expert Natasha Devon told ABC News that social media "definitely has detrimental effects."
"The technology is developing faster than we can assess the impact," Devon said in a phone interview. "But research has shown that teenagers have a sense of guilt if they don't respond to notifications immediately; that they have a changing understanding of reality and that those who use these platforms for more then four hours a day are more concerned with comparing themselves with others."
Social media can create a sense of belonging but like everything else, Devon said social media has to be about moderation.
"For example, spending a week without social media or leaving your phone in the kitchen each night," she said.
O’Neill specifically said in one of her videos that she would like to see a social media platform that is not based on "social validation."
"Can someone please create something that’s not based on likes and views and followers?” she asked in her video. "I hate it. It’s so detrimental to human health."
Another popular Instagram user, Kayla Itsines, who posts about fitness, described O’Neill’s message as “absolutely fantastic."
"It’s not as simple as posting a few photos of beautiful food, new clothes, luxury items…there’s also 'the 5 am wake ups, the late nights, the constant bullying, the lack of support and understanding of friends, the stress,'" she said.
Writing on her new website, O’Neill said she would spend endless hours on social media, and acknowledged that her success was largely based on her appearance.
“My success was largely in the hands of my white privilege and genetics. I was thin, tanned, toned, blonde with a big smile and a push up bra,” O’Neill wrote. “I didn't live in the real world, I lived through screens. And I created a celebrity construct of myself, believing it would bring me happiness. That couldn't be further away from the truth.”
O'Neill is hoping her fans will support her new project and has installed a "pay what it's worth to you" button on her new website.