Recently a friend of mine who has a wonderful blog questioned her self worth in line with her blog value. It reminded me of Essena O’Neill’s sudden departure from social media and the influence social media holds over teenagers, specifically girls.
In regards to Essena O’Neill I’ve seen many people create an argument for pro-Essena or pro-social media. However I don’t believe it is that simple.
Essena O’Neill’s story
Australian teenager Essena O’Neil made her final YouTube video and changed all the captions in her Instagram posts to how she actually felt in the moment the pictures were taken. And then she declared war on social media. She discussed how social media had dictated her life, her friends, her happiness and self-worth finally announcing she was quitting social media for her twelve year old self.
Essena describes her career as having reached the ‘pinnacle of success‘ and still she felt miserable. ‘I’m the girl that had it all, and I want to tell you that having it all on social media means nothing to your real life.’ Wanting to achieve happiness and value in her life and be beautiful to society’s standards, Essena devoured magazines making the models her idols and measured their bodies to her own in comparison. She equated her own self-worth and humanity in numbers: clicks, likes and views.
The pressure of social media on teenage girls
It would be easy to say that Essena’s case is singular. That no other Instagram star or YouTuber who’s made it feels the social pressure to represent a clean, happy and edited version of their life. Many have suggested this. But it is simply not that simple. Zoe Sugg, arguably the biggest YouTuber in the UK struggles with maintaining a certain image online and has talked about the pressure of YouTube fame stating in an interview: ‘A lot of young people look at me and think, “She has the perfect life: She’s got the boyfriend, the house, the dog, the book, the successful YouTube channel,”‘Not everything is perfect… Sometimes I have days where I don’t want to leave my bed, or I’ll have multiple panic attacks.’ Sometime ago Zoe actually published a video claiming her internet fame was just too much and it was important for her fans know that her life on screen isn’t all there is.
I’ve seen many YouTuber’s react to Essena’s video and many have been quick to make a comment and argue that Essena’s video is fake and negatively generalises social media. Many have said her newly launched website is another venture she has cleverly redirected her fans to. These are surface level observations, I think we should dig deeper.
I’m going to address the pressure that made a young twelve year old teenager measure her thighs. The pressure and need of how a vulnerable young person was intimidated and influenced by skinny models and the need to be liked, praised and viewed as worthy in the eyes of society. In her twelve year old mind a solution was proposed which was influenced by the media she was exposed to.
Whether you sympathise with Essena O’Neil or not, the skinny size zero models we see on a daily basis on the internet, in music videos, in magazines, on billboards, in posters and everywhere in between is a very damaging image to offer young people, especially young girls. Even in Hollywood all the women are painted with the same brush, there is little to no diversity in body shapes and success comes with having a beautiful skinny body.
If you want to use social media go for it, but don’t get hooked up on taking perfect pictures for a Instagram posts, or getting hundreds of followers. Essena may have had another agenda but she called out a world that is full steam ahead not always caring how many teenage lives it influences positively or negatively.
Just delete your accounts
Though many will shrug and say if you don’t want to be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr Snapchat or Periscope then there is a delete button. Essena O’Neill should have used it. Again, it is slightly more complicated than that. I never watched any other videos by Essena and did not follow her on Instagram or know of her existence until after she had deleted her social media channels.
Telling a teenagers whose life (possibly) revolves around social media to just delete something is not the solution. Social media has become a huge phenomenon and although created for people to communicate with one another, businesses have become experts at using these platforms and reaching audiences via sponsored and promoted posts. Telling anyone in today’s day and age that you don’t have a Facebook page will make them gasp. So how is it okay to tell a teenager who built her life, career and self-worth around social media to just quit. It’s the same as telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking. It is a vicious cycle and possibly not an easy one to break.
Generally all teenagers are now present on some form of social media, it is the expected norm. Nobody sends texts anymore, they are tweets. Nobody talks anymore they are Facebook rants. Keeping in the loop for a teenager very much involves having a digital presence. Being absent from social media can mean you are absent from the life of your peers – that can sound like the end of the world to some people.
Social media is what you make of it…
Simply put: social media is not good or bad. Social media is what you make of it and what you let inspire you.
There are people who make a livelihood from social media and it is not fair to judge those who work with brands they love. Bloggers / Vloggers and Instagramers recommend products all the time, and as viewers / followers there should be a build up of trust with these people before taking their suggestions and spending your hard earnt cash or being influenced by them.
Social media can be fake and incredibly one dimensional. If you follow someone, question it, question yourself. Why are you following them? If you are inspired by them, ask yourself, why? Look at the image they are creating of themselves and is it real? Be aware of what you are exposing yourself too. Question yourself too, why do you want to be on social media? What type of image are you creating of yourself? Is it true to you? We do need to police the effects of social media on our lives and make a change if it is affecting us negatively, as Essena did. This discussion is bigger than a since individual.
Before you start idealising someone inside of your phone or judging their health and wellbeing and stability based on the pictures you see on Instagram, maybe have a take a step away? What you see is a snapshot of someone’s life. There is a lot that you don’t see.