Essena O'neill Quits Instagram Claiming "Social Media Is Not Real"

In case you missed it, Instagram star / model Essena O’Neill recently quit Instagram and all social media, claiming "it is not real life". This may not seem like anything shocking, until you find out that she had over 500K followers on Instagram, a *famous* youtube page, and an entire career built from her social media following.

Essena announced her leave from all social channels in an emotional video you have to see to understand why she walked away from it all:

Here at Society Letters, we are all about supporting each other as women by keeping it real, but we also love to share the beautiful things that take place in our lives, and yes, that does occasionally include avocado toast and topknots.

After watching O'Neill's video, it was hard for me to come up with a response, because I felt a multitude of feelings. One being that, obviously social media only portrays the most fabulous glimpses into our lives, and second that obviously social media is a new industry that companies are capitalizing on.

I say “obviously”, because I am not naive enough to think that Kim Kardashian actually takes the diet pills she promotes, or that fashion bloggers don’t bulk-shoot their outfits. It’s just what Instagram IS. There are very few people who are truly as fabulous as Instagram portrays them to be (I happen to think Carine Roitfeld is one of them), but those fun filters sure give us a shot at make believing we are. Yet - and this is important - at the end of the day, Instagram, or any other social media for that matter, doesn’t define who we are, and most certainly doesn’t define our happiness. Right?

Essena  laments the loss of her youth due to seeking approval from followers on social media.

Essena laments the loss of her youth due to seeking approval from followers on social media.

Essena  mentions that 99% of  shots  you see where a brand is being promoted, the Instagrammer has been compensated in some way. 

Essena mentions that 99% of shots you see where a brand is being promoted, the Instagrammer has been compensated in some way. 

I was shocked and baffled by O’Neill’s confession that she suffered depression, anxiety, and body image issues due to social media, stating it started at age twelve. My heart broke for the young girl who looked into the mirror wishing to be liked. As Deborah (the founder of SL), and I chatted about the video, we both wholeheartedly agreed that Essena O’Neill was incredibly brave for speaking out and taking such a prolific stance against social media, if not only to save one little girl’s self image.

After ditching social media, Essena decided to start a blog (, in order to get off her chest all of the, what I will call, ‘internal beauty’ she suppressed to be Insta-perfect. In a recent blog post, Essena shares the video “Human” featuring a very candid Cameron Diaz. The short clip can effectively be summed up with: 'Why do you want to do what you want to do? Fulfillment comes from within you by being authentic to yourself, not chasing fame.”

Even before sharing “Human”, Essena shares a video response from Ralph Smart of Infinite Waters regarding her ‘I Quit’ video. In the video, Smart basically says, in 2014 he faced the same position Essena faces now, and thought about quitting social media at the time. Instead, he decided to stop looking at the numbers, and focus on the creation, and the ‘why’, stating, “I have realized one little thing about social media. Social media is very competitive, and because of that, you have to really just focus on the message you have.”

With that said, I think it’s time that all of us look at the ‘why’. I’m not exactly referencing users of personal social accounts, instead I’m speaking to the entrepreneur in all of us, the one who wants to get ahead, or uses social media as a business tool. For example, as a blogger, I indulge in Instagram more than average. I use it as a way to connect with readers and other bloggers. I think of it as a tool. I have made quite a few great business relationships through Instagram, but I always make sure to remind myself, “I would still blog, tweet, and share my projects even if I only had one follower, because this is my passion.” Creating something from nothing is my ‘why’ - it’s why I do what I do, and it’s why I want to be who I want to be.

Essena’s most important message is that in her search for happiness, self-love, and fulfillment through social media, she lost her ‘why’.

In fact, I don’t think she ever had the chance to find her ‘why’ since she started this journey at the age of 12. Yet, most of us do know our ‘why’, we know it right down to the core, and if you take nothing else away from Essena’s emotional video, it’s this: Don’t lose your ‘why’. The amount of likes, shares, or views will never fulfill us. Our happiness is derived from our deepest passions - our family, lovers, friends, hobbies, and careers, and faith.

Now as a challenge to you, I hope you’ll share what your ‘why’ is. Why do you do what you do? Why do you want to be the person you want to be?