If you didn’t know Essena O’Neill before, chances are you’re about to – the QLD teen is calling out the industry that amassed her more than 574K Instagram followers, 250K YouTube subscribers and 60K Snapchat followers, generating an entirely new type of publicity.

Sunshine Coast-born Essena, who’s just about to turn 19, got so fed up with herself for creating the illusion of a ‘perfect’ life – banging body, major modelling contract, affluent background, almost instant fame – that she’s done a complete 180, deleting 2,000+ photos from Instagram / editing captions on the ones left to reflect the ‘truth’ behind the image.

She does *not* hold back, detailing how much she was paid by companies to promote their products and how many failed attempts were made before she was happy enough with a photo to post it.

The only thing that made me feel good that day was this photo. How deeply depressing. Having a toned body is not all we as human beings are capable of.

A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on

NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals

A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on

Edit real caption: This is what I like to call a perfectly contrived candid shot. Nothing is candid about this. While yes going for a morning jog and ocean swim before school was fun, I felt the strong desire to pose with my thighs just apart #thighgap boobs pushed up #vsdoublepaddingtop and face away because obviously my body is my most likeable asset. Like this photo for my efforts to convince you that I’m really really hot #celebrityconstruct

A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on

NOT REAL LIFE – I didn’t pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram, the formal made me feel incredibly alone. BEHIND THE IMAGE COMING SOON – www.letsbegamechangers.com

A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on

Was paid $400 to post a dress. That’s when I had maybe 150k followers, with half a million followers, I know of many online brands (with big budgets) that pay up to $2000 per post. Nothing is wrong with accepting brand deals. I just think it should be known. This photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing (I was uneducated at the time). SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL is my point. Be aware what people promote, ask yourself, what’s their intention behind the photo?

A photo posted by Social Media Is Not Real Life (@essenaoneill) on


Essena reckons she spent more than 50 hours a week (which, BTW, is not even a fraction of what many Aussie Insta-celebrities spend on building their profiles) taking photos to post to her Instagram, creating YouTube videos and answering fan questions about her body and workout regime on Tumblr etc between the ages of 16 and 18.

“Without realising, I’ve spent [the] majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real,” she says. “It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement. Social media allowed me to profit off deluding people.”

Wiping her hands of modelling and social media (her Insty account is still active but she quit it as of a week ago), Essena has launched a website called ‘Let’s Be Game Changers’, that she wants to use as a platform to promote positive thinking / self love.

“I can’t tell you how free I feel without social media. Never again will I let a number define me. IT SUFFOCATED ME. Not because I had 500,000 followers, I felt the same as a young girl, I would just spend hours looking at everyone else’s perfect lives and I strived to make mine look just as good… Guess I succeeded. It’s totally stupid.

“Everyone’s doing it. And I know you didn’t come into this world just wanting to fit in and get by. You are reading this now because you are a game changer, you might not know your power yet, I am just finding mine, but man… when you do… far out you’ll go crazy. It’ll be brilliant. You’ll be brilliant.”

Her goal is to post a new video every day from Monday – to Friday, and her most recent one is a 15-minute rant about why she’s doing what she’s doing.


There are already plenty of naysayers who think this is all one big publicity stunt, and people have been quick to point out that she’s slamming companies for paying models to promote their products while accepting cash donations on her website via a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ option.

That being said, girl’s gotta eat – and it’s pretty rad a 19-year-old has the balls / sense of self to turn away a shitload of money and recognition for doing not much.

She’s also refreshingly upfront about how she plans to make bank, posting an explanation to followers in the info section of her site.

“How will I make money now without YouTube, modelling, instagram paid posts? Living my values and passions is my priority, with the audience I have created over the last few years, I wish to create a platform that acts to spread new age messages of conscious living, addition to technology, minimise the celebrity culture, promote veganism, plant based nutrition, environmental awareness, social issues, gender equality, controversial art etc,” she writes. “I plan to fund this with donation based work (I want everything, every future project to be free, but with a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ option). On top of this support, I also plan to collaborate with companies spreading the same core messages.”

Power to ya, Essena.

Images via Instagram.