Why This Successful Model Quit Instagram In a Bold Stand Against Fakeness

At 19, Essena O’Neill paves a new career path.
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At 19, Essena O’Neill paves a new career path.
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What’s bigger than Instagram? Quitting Instagram.

Last week, Australian Instagram model Essena O’Neill had almost one million followers on the social media platform and was making a living collecting paychecks from companies that paid her to mention their products or services in the photos that she posted. She received between $400 and $1,500 per sponsored post, effectively endorsing a variety of clothing, food, and lifestyle brands.

On October 27, however, she deleted more than two thousand photos from her account and re-captioned the majority of the remaining ninety to offer a candid take on what she was actually thinking when the various images were captured. She reveals that, despite what appears to be casual effortlessness captured by the photographs, her experience was strained and painful. She often starved herself, took hundreds of photos in order to capture one good shot that she could post, and had no loyalty to many of the brands that she featured on her account other than collecting a paycheck. She discusses her exit from social media on her new website, Let’s Be Game Changers.

If you Google O’Neill today, you’ll find that she’s been mentioned more than 82,000 times since October 27, proof that quitting Instagram is blowing our collective minds. And, perhaps, proof that O’Neill is just as resourceful as ever.

While most of the Internet is falling all over itself lauding the model for her honesty and bravery, it’s hard not to wonder at how much attention the move has garnered. “This is simply smart marketing,” wrote one commenter on ABC News’ Facebook page. “She’s reversing her conventional image and in the process gaining even more media exposure. She’s clever—this will only improve her career in a shift toward ‘body positive’ advocacy, which is more of a niche.”

I don’t fault O’Neill for her “crisis of conscience,” as US Weekly called it, and I’m not particularly interested in questioning her motives. Perhaps it’s a stunt to gain attention as a role model rather than just a regular model. Perhaps her exit from social media is every bit as profound and heartfelt as she’s portraying it to be. No matter how much we may feel like we can ascertain her character through her social media legacy or the newfound voice featured on her shiny new website, the truth is that we’ll never know the real story. By O’Neill’s own admission, that’s just the nature of the Internet.

What we do know is this: Essena O’Neill just got a new job. She pivoted. She’s reinventing herself, as entrepreneurs often do. And you know, hats off to her for that. She’s 19 and gorgeous now, but perhaps she’s looking to her future and realizing that relying on that alone is an unlikely way to sustain a career. Or perhaps she really just can’t stand the social media dog-and-pony show for one more day, and she needs a new gig. Either way, she’s taken a bold step in a new direction, and it takes guts to do that.

So, best of luck to you in your new endeavors, Essena, whatever those may be.