by Samia Warsame

When you scroll through your Instagram feed each day, it can be easy to get caught up in the seemingly “perfect” lives of those we follow. Whether they are fashion bloggers with impeccable outfits, makeup gurus with impossibly beautiful selfies, or fitness bloggers with wide smiles and protein shake in hand, it seems as though social media is the perfect source of goals, many of which aren’t exactly realistic.

One of these famous social media models is Essena O’Neill, a 19-year old Australian who seemed to have it all. With about half a million followers on Instagram and 260,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, she was a hot item for sponsors and model agencies in America and Europe. But despite the money, fame and endless requests from businesses, O’Neill found herself quickly falling into a depressing spiral. “I let myself be defined by numbers and the only thing that made me feel better about myself,” she said in her last-ever YouTube video. “Really was the more followers, the more likes, the more praise and the more views I got online. It was never enough.”

O’Neill then decided to announce to her followers that she is quitting social media and promptly deleted half of her carefully edited pictures, rewriting the captions on her remaining photos to detail how they were manufactured by her sponsors. “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real,” she wrote on one her captions. “It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, and success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgment.”

Of course, many people criticized O’Neill’s actions, calling her attempts ‘attention-seeking’ and ‘conceited’. Nina and Randa Nelson, twin YouTubers and friends of O’Neill, even called her actions a hoax. “Our first reaction to reading her Instagram was a bit of eye rolling,” Nina and Randa said in a response video. “[Essena] really likes attention and would have a hard time giving it up. Our reaction to her video was that it seemed kind of hysterical, and we didn’t buy her message.” Rise9 CEO Zack James also contributed to the condemnation of O’Neill’s message. “Blaming social media, calling it a lie, further shows your lack of understand yourself.” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Yes, deleting your social media is a step in the right direction. Disowning personal responsibility for your own happiness and shifting the blame is a step backward.”

So, how did someone like Essena O’Neill, a young girl with the world at her feet, still feel so miserable? Research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that 22 percent of teens find that the more time people spend on social media, the more depressed they become when comparing their lives to others. By constantly referencing the perfection that is portrayed through social media accounts, in turn, it makes people feel self-conscious about their own lives for not seeming as exciting and perfect. “People tend to compare themselves to other people, not knowing the full story,” said counselor Gloria Rubin, “People tend to present good things online, not the negatives.”

However, Stuart students think the opposite. “I don’t think I feel self-conscious on social media,” said junior Liliana Patterson. “Because I feel like I can be more expressive online than I do in real life. It’s kind of like my safe haven of creativity.” Senior Sanon Molla agrees. “I believe I can be more open on social media because I am free to post whatever I want without fear or judgment because no one can see me.”

Recently, O’Neill has launched her own website called ‘Let’s Be Game Changers’, where she hopes to continue to educate people about the destructive nature of trying to gain approval online. “I know you didn’t come into this world just wanting to fit in and get by.” she wrote in her first blog post “You are reading this now because you are a game changer, you might not know your power yet, I am just finding mine, but when you do, it’ll be brilliant. You’ll be brilliant.” Although her former internet persona failed to show the real Essena O’Neill, the inspiration level of the authenticity in her videos has continued to inspired young people to join her movement to change the world of social media for the better.