If you were too enthralled by red-cup-gate last week that you haven’t seen it by now, this girl quit Instagram:
You probably don’t know who she is since you’re not 16, but let me fill you in:
This is Essena O’Neill, Australian model, vegan advocate and social media star. Essena is 19 years old and had over 600,000 Instagram followers when she quit the internet (to start a blog on the internet instead, 2002-style) with this viral video:
Let me say a few things.
1. If someone, especially a young kid, looks at Essena’s account and thinks it’s authentic and feels bad about themselves because their life isn’t as perfect as hers and this makes them question everything they do, how they feel emotionally and how they look at their body, this is very negative.
2. If Essena is unhappy with how she is perceived online and feels she is lying to her audience, then she needs to do what is right for her and her future.
But that’s where I stop agreeing with her. Here’s why:
1. Essena makes a living on her own, on social media. She talks about what I want to call “the hustle.” The constant communication with brands contacting her asking her for coverage, offering to pay her if she just holds their product in the background of one of her images. There’s constant back and forth and communication with agencies and big brands- it’s exhausting. It’s, well, welcome to running a small business, girl. It’s a constant balance of give and take: Do I take this big job though I don’t really love their product but it’ll pay my rent for 2 months? Can I cut my rates that low for this other thing that I really love? Essena has the ability to make daily choices that many people would KILL for with flexibility, free products and people looking to her for advice and her opinion.
2. Your Brand takes Time. No matter what it is. In her video, Essena talks about spending hours editing the perfect Instagram photo. Yeah, of course you are- because I throw on the Ludwig layout in 10 seconds and my photos look like nothing like yours. Do you know who else spends hours editing photos? Magazine photo editors. That’s what social has become- It’s the new Cosmopolitan fashion spread in online form. But with a personality behind it.
3. Brands are using you. Always. And she thinks brands using her to places products and advertise whatever they are selling is tricky and sleazy. And I disagree 100%. Do you think advertisements and product placement in TV shows and in magazines are tricking you? They’re not. Everyone knows it happens, and good brands place their products where they fit. If Essena was eating McDonalds and getting paid to show off the latest Big Mac and her size 0 waist- that wouldn’t work. And with an audience as large as she has, she can make a decision to decide if that partnership benefits her brand. Social media has incredible power to target a product or service to the best audience. Do you know how many cat products I totally don’t need I have bought because they found a way to target their creative ads towards me on Facebook?
4. It’s not authentic. No duh. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I have never thought anything I’ve seen on social is authentic. I’m sorry friend from elementary school with 5 kids- your hair has not looked that perfect all day. And you who only says the nicest things ever about your spouse online, give me a break- I bet you fight more than the rest of us.
The picture above is from one of my favorite bloggers I’ve followed for years. She lives in Paris and Barcelona and wears incredible clothes and does these amazing fashion shoots. But this girl is selling me a BRAND. I never see her real life- her friends, her boyfriend, her family. And I know she has those.
Essena may not be able to hack it online and feel like she’s constantly not being her true self. But maybe she could accept it if she had authenticity some other way in her life. An Instagram account with her 20 closest friends that’s private where she can throw on the Nashville filter and take a picture of her tacos. Are you completely authentic at work? Me neither. I do not love excel as much as I claim to on any good day. And it sounds like a place for reality is just what Essena needs. Because clearly she’s good at what she does, and I hate that she’s giving it up. She’s good at selling and telling a story, and if she can figure out a way to be happy in her personal life and balance her promotion with authenticity, she can continue to be a well paid teenager with a job millions of people would kill for.
Or.. she can get an office job like the rest of us and realize how good she has had it all along.