Blue Notes

Blue Notes

4 November 2015

“Social media is not real life”: is Essena O’Neill revolutionary?


Yesterday’s “social” news published by almost every fashion site or online magazine was about Essena O’Neill, a nineteen year old girl who has accused social media to be “fake and not showing real life.” Essena was what today is (horribly) called a web influencer, with an Instagram account with more than 500,000 followers and a YouTube channel (which I did not understand what it was about) equally well-known and a modeling career. On her Instagram Essena published daily photos, of course sponsored, where she wore swimsuits or advertised for other brands. But then she decided to quit, to close her YouTube channel and to delete most of her Instagram pictures because they were “fake”. Her yoga on the beach? Fake. Her beautiful pictures? The result of hours of make up and attempts to find the perfect shot that made her already perfect body looking even more skinny. Essena became obsessed by all of this, followers and likes were never enough and she always felt unhappy, sick and depressed. So she decided to change her “life”.
This story was presented by media as almost heroic, and to get the coverage it got I may also add as somehow “revolutionary”. However the story has left me rather cold. Instagram is fake? It does not represent real life of people? Hey, really?! I’m sure it wasn’t Essena the first to recognize it. But for me the point is not that either. Social media itself is not fake. The most important lesson I learned from my sociology of communication studies was that a medium is never good or bad itself. Since it is a medium. It’s the content that you can pass through it that can be positive or negative. Interesting or boring. Fake or real. There are bloggers on Instagram that photoshop their faces, noses and legs. That show a life always being over the top. A perfect life, without sadness or difficulties, that everyone can envy. And there are people who don’t.

Essena says she wanted to break up with social media but she did it with a series of videos. Through her new website, “Let’s be Game Changers” she will promote her new self, the better version of herself. A video that went viral. A video where she asks people who share her same point of view for an economic support, because the 500$ for bikini photos are gone at the end. But she is still asking for money on the web. And that’s where her revolutionary theory comes out as a weak one to me. I do not question her reasons, she looks sincere in her videos I watched. But her exhortations to turn off our smartphones, to leave the house to talk to people, to go out to a park to meet new people “because real life is there,” sounds a bit naif to me and rather obvious.

Dear Essena, there have always been people on the web who have never forgotten what “real” life is about. That despite having an Instagram account and maybe working through it, still have values, a conscience and who kept the right balance to reality. That have always known that family, friends and love is all that matters. Some people become obsessed by followers and numbers on social media. Some people show a fake life. And some other don’t. Never did. But it seems they never made it to be in the news.




  1. Sono d accordo con te, anche se apprezzo il fatto che abbia cercato di fare capire alle ragazzine cosa c’è dietro le foto per cui si diventa “Influencer”. Chi lavora nel campo capisce perfettamente cosa c’è dietro questo tipo di foto ma bisogna pensare a persone che non hanno idea di come funzionino i social ed è giusto che sappiano che le foto vengono sponsorizzate etc, così come i blog sarebbero costretti a specificare quando i post sono sponsorizzat. Detto ciò, il voltafaccia è un po’ esagerato secondo me, anche se preferisco qualcosa del genere rispetto a chi si photoshoppa tutta, decisamente! Poi ognuno sceglie come postare e chi seguire, di sicuro non starò ad ascoltarla mentre dice (online) che la vita vera è un’altra.

    • Sai questa cosa del proteggere le ragazzine non mi trova molto d’accordo. Al liceo leggevo fior di tomi e scrivevo cose molte più profonde di adesso e così molta gente che conoscevo. Le ragazzine influenzabili saranno quarantenni altrettanto influenzabili. Perché c’è gente che vuole essere influenzata, vuole sempre un guru da seguire.
      E penso che ormai si sappia benissimo che alcune cose sono sponsorizzate sui social ma non trovo che sia l’influenza determinante. Certo dipende da chi segui e da cosa sponsorizza. Ma in caso di sponsorizzazioni di moda: che impatto ha se pubblicizzo un costume essendo pagata o meno? Se non mi pagano il costume mi piace se mi pagano in realtà non mipiace? Per me forse ha più impatto che le influencer che li indossino debbano per forza avere un certo aspetto…
      Cmq vorrei anch’io dei social media privi di photoshop, di vite perfette eccetera ma questa vicenda non li cambierà di una virgola.

      Erica Blue
  2. once again straight to the point!

    I’ve been thinking about this whole situation and you know… may be it is revolutionary to those, who grew up with social media and don’t know the life before. this generation is so much different than ours (born in the 80s) (which is more than normal, i guess). but still, the fact that it went viral and people claim it to be pretty much “revolutionary” is interesting per se, don’t you think?

    anyhow, great post! I share more or less your opinion on that one too. :)


    • Yes, I agree that our generation has a different relationship with social media!

      Erica Blue
  3. You’re so right. When she started asking for support for her new website I was thinking… Well… Aren’t you still promoting something through social media? And those big crocodile tears? Really? You’re only 19 is not like you’re life is coming to an end. All of us are missing some things at some point. Cause we want to work hard and build a career but it’s not the end of the world. It’s just part of life. And how is she going to promote her website in the future? That’s the question. Or maybe she doesn’t need it. Cause she hit the jackpot with this video.

    Zenobia Lazarovici
    • Exactly…

      Erica Blue
  4. Io! Io! Presente! Non ho mai fatto notizia, non mi fila nessuno. Quello che pubblico è vero, sono io, sono le cose che faccio, banali, senza ritocchi — ritocchi, i filtri ci sono 😉 — e infatti non è che poi alla fine frega a tanti. E’ sempre lì la questione: dipende dall’uso che nei fai dei social e di come li vivi tu. Io ho scelto una via, gli altri facciano quello che vogliano.

    PS: hai ragione le ragazzine influenzabili sono anche le quarantenni influenzabili.


    Lela - Seaseight Design Blog