Whatever happened to Essena O'Neill?

Essena O’Neill was the ultimate 2015 'It Girl' online before she dramatically quit social media, calling it 'contrived' and 'all-consuming'.

Her exit generated international headlines and followers were left in disbelief as she stuck to her word and vanished from public life.

Nine years on and millennials are thirsty to know what happened to the OG Tumblr girl who they say is their 'Roman Empire'.

Quitting social media.

As one of Australia’s first Instagram models, Essena’s picture-perfect life captivated teenage girls around the globe.

The 18-year-old was '#bodygoals', with her feed consisting of countless Tringl bikini photoshoots and vegan recipes — including her infamous medjool date shake. To this day, millennials testify she’s the sole reason they turned vegan in their teenage years. 

Essena O'Neill. Image: Instagram.


In October 2015, when Essena was at the peak of her fame, she shocked the world by dramatically quitting social media, describing it as 'contrived perfection made to get attention'.

Pulling back the veil on the industry, she changed her username to 'Social Media Is Not Real Life' and made a 17-minute-long YouTube video where she admitted she had become consumed by Instagram likes and wasn't living in a 3D world anymore. 

Watch: In 2015, Essena O’Neill posted a video explaining why she was quitting social media. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube.

Essena deleted more than 2,000 photos from her Instagram and edited the captions of her remaining photos to expose the artificial reality of her own influence. 

Underneath one of her bikini photos, she altered the caption to say, "Stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool, or inspirational, it's contrived perfectionism made to get attention."


When signing off for the final time on the social media platform, Essena announced she was launching a blog called 'letsbegamechangers' to share raw content about her life which was free from follower and like counts. 

Despite bidding farewell, a week later she returned to Instagram allegedly asking followers for money to help pay her rent and put towards a book she never released — but apart from that momentary blip, Essena disappeared from our feeds for four years. 

Essena's comeback.

In 2019, the Queenslander resurfaced on YouTuber Tiffany Ferguson’s channel.

In the 30-minute interview, Essena made the unexpected announcement that she was returning to Instagram and wanted her followers back. 

"I think as much as I can critique myself, there was something so special about what I had online and I just want it again," she said.

When asked what she missed the most about the influencer world, she admitted it was the "insane pleasure of earning money like that" and said, "it’s a different life and a different whole f***ing world".

Starting from scratch on a brand new account, Essena posted her first photo in four years writing, "So coming back online… I’m terrified."

The grand return was short-lived. The once enviable 'It Girl' attracted just over 2,000 followers to her new account. 


With Essena out of sight and out of mind for four years, the fast-paced influencer space had moved on.

Where is Essena now? 

In recent years, the now 27-year-old has been testing the water on Pinterest, sharing candid photos of her new life with her 1,200 followers.

Under the username 'essenaoneill24' she shares updates about her new golden retriever puppy, nights out with friends and the odd vegan treat.

The photos are a far cry from her overly posed and curated feed, with Essena looking carefree and in the moment. 

Essena O'Neill now. Image: Pinterest.


With millennials currently experiencing a cultural revival of their youth, with nostalgia at the forefront, the time could be right for Essena to attempt comeback 2.0. 

TikTok creator Ania who goes by the handle ‘youknowania’ recently told her followers she is desperate to know where Essena O’Neill is now. 

Whilst Tiktok creator, Nikki Munguia asked her followers if she’s the only one who constantly thinks about Essena O’Neill.

The sentiment was echoed in the creator’s comment section with one user writing, "I think about her often. When she dropped off the internet that was wild."

Another wrote, "I'm dying to know what she’s doing with her life. I worshipped her."

Despite the media landscape changing dramatically in the past nine years, ironically Essena was ahead of her time. 

Modern-day influencers have made a name for themselves through call-out culture and lifting the lid on 'Instagram verse reality'.

Time will tell if Essena is ready to throw herself back into the lion’s den. 

For more influencer analysis, listen to Outspoken the Podcast here

Feature image: Instagram.