Earlier in the week, we wrote about popular Australian blogger Essena O’Neill, who was widely praised after she publicly announced her intention to quit social media, amid her revelations that her online presence was mere “contrived perfection made to get attention.” Through her Instagram account – of which she had almost half a million followers – she said that the majority of her pictures were completely staged and heavily edited, either for herself or to reflect the wishes of a brand. She maintained she wanted others to see that the pictures were simply “contrived efforts for perfection” and nothing more. We’re suckers for a gorgeous Instagram snap (despite knowing they don’t reflect true reality), but we were thoroughly impressed by her brutal honesty. However, new developments in O’Neill’s story have left many questioning her intentions.
Her Instagram account has since been deleted, and she has constructed a new website letsbegamechangers.com, but has now asked for donations from her fans as she “still needs money to live.” The 18-year-old revealed that she earned income from brand promotion via social media and in another video (which has now disappeared offline) she said: “If you want to support me there is a support page. I can’t afford rent right now. It’s like I’m embarrassed to admit that I need help, that if you like my videos or like any of my posts or you like this website and this is of value to you, then yeah, please support me. Because I can’t afford my own real life.”
O’Neill has also issued a similar plea on her website. Could this simply be a coincidental turn of events? Could she have realised too late with wanting to say adieu to (paid) self-promotion, she has left herself financially stuck? Yes, of course. However, the more cynical would not be blamed for questioning whether her story was a scam all along; a ploy to perhaps amass more followers (she has reportedly gained over 200,000 overnight) and viral attention promoting her new website? Fellow YouTubers certainly seem to think so. While we’re not here to deem her a total fraud as her fellow bloggers have done, there definitely seems to be something iffy about O’Neill’s story.
However, whether or not there’s something suspicious behind the blogger’s campaign against the unattainable images of perfection often perpetuated by social media, her initial message — that living your life for validation from others via ‘likes’ can be harmful to your mental wellbeing as well as isolating — has merit and is worth listening to.