Why there's more to your life story than filtered pouts
She was the beach-hopping, bikini-clad teen with more than 800,000 followers on Instagram. But Essena O'Neill has now taken a stand against the social media site's "contrived perfection". The model has revealed that she is now struggling to pay her bills after abandoning the life of a sponsored social media star. It's time the rest of us moved on from boasting via jpegs too.
One photo, O'Neill has explained, had to be taken over a hundred times to get it 'Kodak-ready'. In another, she revealed that she was paid hundreds of pounds to wear a particular dress. She also spoke out about how she would starve herself for days to get her stomach perfectly flat and a new caption under a smiling selfie ends with a disclaimer, all typed in upper case, saying: "There is nothing real about this."
In an emotional, 17-minute YouTube video, the final one she will post, O'Neill (pictured below) explains: "I'm the girl that 'had it all' and I want to tell you that 'having it all' on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life… I let myself be defined by numbers and the only thing that made me feel better about myself…really was the more followers, the more likes, the more praise and the more views I got online. It was never enough."
Young girls do not know this. The 13-year-old version of me certainly wouldn't. What you see in the media skews your perception of normal. Insta-envy might be the most first-world of problems but Glamour magazine surveyed 1,000 women in 1984 and again in 2014. It found we are 11pc more dissatisfied today than we used to be with our bodies. In fact, 80pc of women said that just looking in the mirror makes them feel bad. Interestingly, these participants were found to feel "universally worse" after looking at their social media friends than they did after looking at celebrities.
You see, we all know that celebrities have been airbrushed but when it comes to our friends, we feel their bodies should be within reach. All those expertly-positioned Instagram snaps rendered in teal and amber we see from people we know can be just as dishonest as the pages of glossy magazines.
Another study by Samsung found that over 36pc of us admit to digitally altering our selfies and probably lots more of us are just keeping schtum about it. Actually, there's an Instagram trend where women post photo demos showing just how easy it is to fake a body transformation snap with clever lighting, poses and filters. And not only are we engaged with different sorts of media these days, we're hooked up to more of it. Glamour's survey found that women spend an average of nearly four-and-a-half hours a day online and more than two hours just on social media itself.
Of course, there's nothing new in the notion that the world of social media is an artificial one. We all know that certain social media sensations get paid hefty sums to endorse products, and we know, logically, that our friends' lives can't really be as fabulous as their Instagram accounts suggest. But still we click 'follow' and pore over their lives. And while we might be good, law-abiding individuals, we're all still guilty of making everyone feel bad with the over-stylised pictures we share. Why? Because every single Instagram account is basically the equivalent of an enormous swinging middle finger to all of your friends.
Instagram is designed to share pictures but it's always been less about artsy provocative pictures and more about plain old showing off. Blame it on the rich kids of Instagram trickledown effect but even the insignificant kids of Instagram know that we have a captive audience.
The humblebrag of Twitter was bad enough but now we're doing it with images. Look how bendy my yoga pose is, how green my morning juice is, how fantastic my life is. In real life, if you walked up to a stranger, tilted your head downward at a 45-degree angle and asked "Do you think I'm pretty?", you'd be considered crazy. On the internet, this is exactly how we roll.
A good life isn't measured by likes and instabragging is increasingly coming across as social needy and needier.
There are more ways to write a life story than in filtered pouts.