Essena O’Neill, an 18-year-old from Australia, is an Instagram celebrity—that is, an otherwise normal high-schooler who’s racked up almost 600,000 followers by posting photos of herself on the app. Last week, however, she announced to her fans that she’s quitting social media because it is “not real life.”
O’Neill, who says brands have paid her up to $2000 for sponsored Instagram posts, deleted (by her count) over 2000 photos from her account last week. She changed her Instagram name to “Social Media Is Not Real Life.” And then she edited the captions of her remaining photos to be more truthful, she says.
The new captions are really good. For example, here is O’Neill’s astute take on an old photo of herself modeling different-colored rompers: “Nothing about this image is inspiring to younger generations or creating real change.”
A perfect caption for any Instagram post, really: photo of brunch, vacation pic, portrait of your cat.
On a photo of herself doing yoga on the beach, O’Neill added this new thought: “There is nothing zen about trying to look zen, taking a photo of you trying to be zen and proving your zen on Instagram.”
O’Neill even called herself out for once pairing a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote with a photo of herself in a bikini. “Bikini photo with deep quote #classic,” she wrote.
She also noted that an old photo of herself wearing a colorful headdress and body paint could be deemed “cultural appropriation.”
In perhaps her most daring reveal, she admitted that she once posted a photo of herself in workout gear, even though she did not actually work out that day.
O’Neill’s reasoning for doing all this, she wrote on Instagram, is that “social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement.”