The decision by the successful Australian teen model Essena O’Neil to remove thousands of her self-idolising Instagram images, and delete her ‘like-fixated’ social media accounts has had tabloid press and teenagers chattering around the world – attracting thousands of initially supportive comments, together with some pretty cynical backlash from fellow social media ‘stars’.
She has now re-edited the commentaries on the few images she has kept through a more adult, cynical lens.
This is a typical *new* commentary on a typical sexualised shot:
“This is what I like to call a perfectly contrived candid shot. Nothing is candid about this…I felt the strong desire to pose with my thighs just apart #thighgap boobs pushed up #vsdoublepaddingtop and face away because obviously my body is my most likeable asset. Like this photo for my efforts to convince you that I’m really, really hot #celebrityconstruct”
Essena, who just turned 19, is now redirecting her fame to promote some causes she cares about: veganism, and a positive body image. But she is also campaigning against screen-based and opinion-fixated living, urging her followers to #lookup and be more present in their lives. And specifically to switch off from social media.
Her new site is hosted at: Let’s be game changers where she is using vimeo videos to call people to take a social media sabbatical:
“So my first little challenge for you is to go social media free for one week. Use your phone for texting friends ONLY. No Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube or Facebook or twitter or anything else where you view other people online. One week. Just one week. Post a caption or photo saying it’s a personal experiment. THEN DELETE ALL THE APPS OFF YOUR PHONE. I want you to actually do this and see what happens. My whole life changed when I did. I finally woke up. I saw more, I listened more, I had more time, I found myself becoming more and more creative, less stressed, happier and with this new sense of power…. but most of all I just FELT MORE. I want you to feel this too. It’s so beautiful. It’s real.”
This is in dramatic contrast to her former Youtube feed…now taken down.
The problem here, of course, is that social media actually bring huge benefits:
- They enable us to sustain niche interests and passions which we would otherwise struggle to maintain.
- They give us ways to signal our passions and interests that enrich our friends’ view of us, and thus humanise us all.
- They allow communities around us to mingle together and allow new serendipitous relationships to form between them.
- They help us break our sense of isolation by helping us stay socially connected when our lives make this hard.
- They let us get things off our chest – frustration, anger or sadness, and receive virtual ‘strokes’ and hugs
- They remind us of the diversity of opinions, lifestyles and attitudes we encounter in life, and how we can bridge across so many.
- Finally, they do, also, remind us that we are creatures of display, pretence and affectation. And that that is really quite OK!
With respect to Essena, as sad as it is to see someone getting overwrought and absorbed by their own narcissism, this is not, ultimately the fault of social media.
From time to time it’s great to take a break – be that from chocolate, doughnuts, alcohol, or TV. Even books. Even socialising. But only to remind oneself of the benefits they bring. And bring life back into balance. Taking a break from social media from time to time is a great idea. But abandoning it altogether, or blaming it for your own human frailty and loss of selfhood is like blaming chocolate for your hunger.
In reality social media enable us to be more human, not less – learning and growing far faster than we ever could alone. It offers us a chance to influence and be influenced continually.
And that’s a good thing.
Tim Kitchin is client service director and director of consulting at Copper, the digital marketing agency.