2. Over the past several years, O’Neill has built a social media empire. She explained that when she was in high school, she started posting on a blog, YouTube, and social media, and soon became consumed by it.
“I fell in love with this idea that I could be of value to other people,” she wrote. “Let’s call this my snowballing addiction to be liked by others.”
4. As she became a bigger online celebrity, she began to get more and more sponsorship opportunities. Eventually, she was able to support herself through sponsorships and was getting offers to model in L.A., she wrote.
A search for O’Neill on Tumblr brings up many pictures.
5. To her thousands of fans it seemed like she had it all. But, O’Neill wrote, she was totally unhappy.
“Yeah 16-year-old Essena would have been like ‘WTF girl you have the dream life,’” she wrote. “So why did I feel so lost, lonely and miserable?”
6. But recently, O’Neill decided she had had enough. She said she realized she had stopped “actioning her values,” and wasn’t living an authentic life.
“I was addicted to what others thought of me, simply because it was so readily available,” she wrote. “I was severely addicted. I believed how many likes and followers I had correlated to how many people liked me. I didn’t even see it happening, but social media had become my sole identity. I didn’t even know what I was without it.”
7. So she has decided to make a change. O’Neill announced to her followers last week that she is quitting social media and edited the captions on her “perfect photos” to tell the truth behind the pictures.
8. O’Neill kept her edited Instagram online for about a week, then deleted it on Wednesday, she wrote on her blog. But her edited captions live on through fan accounts.
9. All of her “fitspo” pics? O’Neill wrote that she was engaging in unhealthy habits just to get the perfect “hot body” shot.
“A 15 year old girl that calorie restricts and excessively exercises is not goals. Anyone addicted to social media fame like I once was, is not in a conscious state,” she wrote.
10. Her “candid” bikini shots? Totally staged.
“…Stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs,” O’Neill wrote on one of her photos. “I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”
11. In fact, O’Neill writes that some of her “candid” poses were done just for the ‘gram. On one picture, she wrote she never wore the outfit in the photo out of the house.
12. O’Neill wrote that she would spend hours trying to get the “perfect” selfie, and then would edit it using several different apps.
“‘Please like this photo, I put on makeup, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewelry… Took over 50 shots until I got one I thought you might like, then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps- just so I could feel some social approval from you,’” she wrote.
13. And sometimes, her photos were the only thing that could make her happy.
“The only thing that made me feel good that day was this photo,” she wrote. “How deeply depressing. Having a toned body is not all we as human beings are capable of.”
14. The teen star is also revealing how many of her posts were sponsored by brands.
She wrote that she made money off photos on the regular, even though they looked completely candid.
“If you find yourself looking at ‘Instagram girls’ and wishing your life was [their’s]… Realize you only see what they want,” she wrote. “If they tag a company 99% of the time it’s paid.”
15. In a video posted to her YouTube channel, a makeup-free O’Neill begins to cry when she talks about how meaningless she feels her life has become. In another video, she talks about why she has learned social media “sucks.”
“I spent everyday looking at a screen, viewing and comparing myself to others,” she wrote. “It’s easier to look at shiny and pretty things that appear happy than stopping and just getting real with yourself.”
16. Now, O’Neill is asking others to challenge themselves by quitting social media for a week. She has created a website, LetsBeGameChangers.com, to tell her story and encourage others to be present and live authentically.
“Without realizing, I’ve spent 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.”
BuzzFeed News has contacted O’Neill for comment.
17. UPDATE: After her message went viral on Monday, O’Neill posted another emotional video thanking people for their support.
The teen also responded in a blog post to some backlash from her new website. She said she has received criticism that she was trying to go viral, and that she was just looking for attention.
However, O’Neill wrote that her intentions were pure.
“I had no idea an embarrassing video of mine would react in such a way…I’m leaving my Instagram up as symbol, hoping my re-edit captions serve as a wake up call,” she wrote. “People should know my life was edited and contrived. I don’t blame anyone but myself for that.”
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