Kit Steinkellner
November 11, 2015 12:10 pm

Terms like “Instagram celebrity” and “Internet famous” get bandied about a lot these days online, so much so that it can be hard to parse through their exact definitions. How many followers must one have before one is deemed a celebrity? What are the boxes one must check off before one can be officially declared famous? If anyone is a social media celebrity these days, it’s Essena O’Neill, the Australian teen who boasted several hundred thousand followers across platforms (her biggest following was Instagram, where she maintained half a million followers). What REALLY launched Essena into superstardom was when she loudly quit all her platforms, exposing her truth: Though her social media life looked flawless, on the other side of the screen Essena could not have been more miserable.

“I spent everyday looking at a screen, viewing and comparing myself to others,” Essena explained in a video she posted last week. “It’s easier to look at shiny and pretty things that appear happy than stopping and just getting real with yourself.”

In the wake of her big move off of social, Essena has created the website Let’s Be Gamechangers, in which she’s fighting back against “the mainstream distractions that cloud our lives.”

“I’m over people and companies that just want to sell, not create out of passion and purpose,” she explains on her site. “Mainstream media, mainstream thoughts and mainstream fear — I think all of it is limiting our real potential here on earth.”

In quitting social media superstardom, Essena voiced her criticism re: the lengths young women go to both achieve and maintain their status online. She recently released a video entitled “Love Gets Likes” in which she exposed another unsettling truth about internet fame — the love lives of social media stars are often just one more lie Internet celebrities tell the public.

Essena is speaking from personal experience. As she explains in the video, a male supermodel became a regular commenter on her Instagram. The two ended up getting on the phone, but Essena quickly put the kibosh on the relationship when it became clear that this dude was pursuing her for Internet appearances only.

Essena then spells out exactly what is so disturbing about inventing a romantic relationship for one’s Internet followers.

“…this supermodel wants to propose a ‘business deal’ which is an online relationship. I think that is really sad. I think not a lot of people realise that when you put something online and you have a lot of followers and you are making money from it, it is a business, so why not collaborate with someone else and have a relationship and get more followers?”

Of course, fictionalized celebrity romances are nothing new, it’s the stuff Old Hollywood (and, if we’re honest, probably a fair bit of New Hollywood)’s built upon. The Internet creates celebrities now just as Hollywood’s been doing for the past century, and even though Internet celebrities can seem more “accessible” and “real” than movie stars, it’s disconcerting to realize that these people who seem real enough are actually under an enormous amount of pressure to pretend in every aspect of their lives.

Watch Essena’s eye-opening video here:

Love Gets Likes from Essena O’Neill on Vimeo.

Related reading:

A teen gets real about her “perfect” life on social media. Here’s why it matters.

This fitness blogger has some powerful words about the whole Essena O’Neill quitting social media

Image via Vimeo

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