This week via a You Tube video, Instagram star Essena O’Neill announced that she is quitting Social Media and denounced the time she ‘wasted’ on it as having ‘made her miserable’ despite the fame and monetary success she was able to achieve. She further explained how ‘fake’ social media is and even re-captioned many of her Instagram posts detailing the tricks and deceit behind the pictures. She states that she made the video as a wake-up call to others, especially young girls, because she wished she had had this information when she was 12 years old. She ends her video by asking people to put away social media and instead go and engage in real life.
It is a powerful video. Ironically however, given that she ‘quit social media’ she removed both the You Tube video and her revised Instagram account. However, there is a link to the video here which hopefully still works. If you haven’t seen it already, you really need to view it yourself to get the full effect. (Warning: There is a little profanity)
After watching the video, it seemed a no-brainer that this was a great video to simply pass along. After all, it was being roundly praised throughout the media and the messages were in line with much of what I preach. But before reposting it, I decided to show it to my daughter and, as often happens, this discussion led me to rethink my initial position.
Turns out I did miss my daughter’s Instagram Obsession. And just like O’Neill, it apparently happened around the age of 12. She became obsessed with a different Instagram girl, pouring over her pictures endlessly and wishing desperately to be just like her. But unlike O’Neill, my daughter says that she never became obsessed about her idol’s followers. She wasn’t tracking her numbers hoping to achieve them herself, she simply wanted to look like this girl – be as ‘perfect’ as this girl always seemed to be. For her, it was about ‘looks’ not ‘fame’ and she would have given up all social media gladly if somehow that bargain led her to the looks she desired at that age.
Even had I been more aware, I don’t think that pulling all social media at this point would have been beneficial to my daughter. First of all, I don’t think it is realistic anymore. It is part of our fabric now like it or not. Secondly, my daughter’s insecurities were from within. Removing one source of envy would have inevitably resulted in another one popping up somewhere else.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud Ms. O’Neill for taking charge of her own life and doing what she needed to do for herself. I just question the message that this may send to Parents of young girls everywhere – that social media is inherently bad and the only way to protect girls from it is by removing them from it. Wouldn’t it be better, like with all things in life, to educate them? Empower them with the knowledge of how it works – that although this looks like the girl next door going through a ‘normal’ day, many of the images are falsified and produced for effect and dollars. Teach them how to balance it – it is possible to use social media and go to a park and engage in ‘real’ life. Embolden them to use social media honestly and to encourage others to do the same.
Looking through the account of the Instagram ‘star’ my daughter had idolized, to my eyes, it took about three seconds to see the shots that were modified or posed. But to a 12 year old’s eyes, these shots were ‘real’ and therefore in some ways even more damaging than many of the beauty ads she sees.
So yes, I missed this. I failed here. But what I did do when my daughter was 12, what I do think I got right, was to speak to her a lot about self-esteem and how self-perception is always being influenced by the world around us. The world is changing, and so what influences us is constantly changing, but the dynamic is always the same. And so, while I missed speaking directly about this specific issue, I believe honest education about the world in general helped her to navigate this specific issue. (And I like to believe that had the situation actually got to a critical stage it would have come out in our conversations).
Not surprisingly, one day after Ms. O’Neill’s story hit the news, one day after all of the media praise, came the inevitable backlash – the accusations that her video was simply a promotional hoax meant to make her even more famous. I don’t know if this is true, I guess time will tell. But if it is, it will be one more conversation to have with my daughter.