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Former Instagram star to followers: Social media isn't real life

Posted: November 4, 2015 1:39 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2015 1:39 p.m.
Jessica Ivins/

When it comes to social media, often what you see really is too good to be true.

AUSTRALIA — When it comes to social media, often what you see really is too good to be true.

That’s according to 19-year-old Essena O’Neill, who is leaving behind hundreds of thousands of followers on multiple social media platforms and quitting social media for good in an effort to highlight the very real fact that no matter what a doctored image may convey, nobody leads a “perfect” life.

O’Neill made the announcement Monday in what she’s calling her last YouTube video, Time reports. The teen star also wrote an explanation on Instagram, where she deleted over 2,000 photos that she said “served no purpose other than self-promotion.”

“I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance,” she wrote. “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. … It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated, self-absorbed judgement.”

O’Neill left some photos on her Instagram account — which she renamed “Social Media is Not Real Life” — but changed the original “deceptive” captions to “short shots of reality.”

“It was never my conscious intention, but I deluded a lot of people,” she wrote. “Call it deception, manipulation, lying, not saying the whole truth. … I was both addicted to social approval and terrified no one would value me for myself.”

In one of the photos, O’Neill is posing in a white evening gown.

“I didn’t pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram, the formal makes me feel incredibly alone,” her new caption reads.

Another image shows O’Neill looking fit and posing in a bikini on the beach. Once again, she says, what you see is an illusion.

“Took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good,” she wrote. “Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this.”

O’Neill said she hopes her fans will follow her more authentic journey over at her new website, “Let’s Be Game Changers,” where she challenges others to make similar changes and put a halt to the negative impact social media can have on the way people view themselves and others.

“When you stop comparing and viewing yourself against others, you start to see your own spark and individuality,” she writes on her site. “Everyone has love, kindness, creativity, passion and purpose. Don’t let anyone sell you something different.”

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