Ask me what the most important virtue is in life and it’s an easy answer. It’s courage.
It takes courage in this world to chase your dreams when you’re surrounded by people who have no faith in you.
It takes courage to bounce back after a humiliating moment or when life gives you every reason to stay down on your knees. It takes courage as a bystander to stand up to bullies.
And it takes courage – a hell of a lot of courage – to be your real, imperfect, hot mess self in a world that pressures you to be anything but.
This week a Queensland teenage girl – Essena O’Neill – did something incredibly courageous. She dismantled her entire life; walking away from a slew of lucrative sponsorship and endorsement deals with the announcement she’d been peddling a lie.
You can watch a clip of Essena’s announcement here (the whole video is available on YouTube):
Up until just last week, Essena O’Neill was one of social media’s darlings. I’d never heard of her – truth be told. Turns out I was living under a rock. At just 19 O’Neill had the type of influence and sway over other teenagers that makes marketers go weak at the knees and reach into their pockets. (We’re talking 600,000 followers on Instagram alone and 200,00 on YouTube and Tumblr. To call the young woman popular is an understatement. )
So what was so special about the Coolum teen? What was she DOING on her social media feed? Nothing much except selling perfection. Take a look at Essena’s Instagram feed and it’s like flicking through a frickin’ SEED catalogue. The perfection is dazzling and dizzying in equal measure. There’s Essena casually looking at the ocean after a run – perfect hair, perfect abs, perfect thigh gap. Essena ready for a night out looking – you know, PERFECT. There’s Essena laughing casually at a joke. Sipping a drink. Doing yoga. Fishing! Shopping! Contemplating life. And all of it perfect.
Or more accurately perfectly CURATED. So, last week Essena got brave. Last week Essena dared to pull back the curtain to reveal that the all-powerful Wizard of Oz was really just a teenage girl from the Sunny Coast with acne and insecurities like everyone else. Of and enough free time to take 300 photos of herself so she could find at least ONE where her hair looked perfect while striking a pose on the beach. And I couldn’t be more grateful. I couldn’t be more grateful that she admitted that those photos that looked so ‘so candidly casually gorgeous were anything but. Instead they were – OF COURSE THEY WERE – highly curated, highly edited, highly thought-through poses designed to sell a life that never truly existed. I’m grateful that she admitted that hours and hours were spent in anguish sucking in her stomach and perfecting her hair until she finally found a photo that made her abs looks flat.
NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on May 10, 2014 at 12:59am PDT
And while I’m genuinely sad it was the case, I’m grateful that Essena admitted that her real life felt hollow and meaningless in her endless search for gratification and attention and likes. Every social occasion was an occasion of multi-tasking – never fully committing to a moment or a conversation because her mind was forever on the perfect photo to go with that moment of her life. What an exhausting way to live. By speaking out, by taking a torch and leading us back of house, Essena has allowed us to view those images through a different lens. They’re still gorgeous! But they remind us that it takes a village to create those moments (or at least a selfie stick and a few hours to capture that perfect shot!) And she’s reminded all of her followers – and their parents – that we should never forget that the images we see on social media are so often a game of smoke and mirrors.
Some recent images from Essena’s Instagram: