19-Year-Old Instagram Star Reveals the Truth Behind Her ‘Perfect’ Photos

At the age of 15, Essena O’Neill began posting photos of herself on social media hoping to become ‘Facebook famous.’ She built a huge following and seemed happy. But in reality, Essena was very unhappy. Over the course of 4 years, Essena built a social media empire with more than 766,000 followers on Instagram and more than 250,000 YouTube subscribers.

To her thousands of fans, it seemed like she had it all. But in reality, Essena was very unhappy. She realized that her social media life was unauthentic, and now she’s on a mission. Earlier this week, Essena announced to her followers that she is quitting social media and is editing the captions on her “perfect photos” to tell the truth behind the pictures…

I had acne here, this is a lot of makeup. I was smiling because I thought I looked good. Happiness based on aesthetics will suffocate your potential here on earth.


“I was obsessed with ‘likes’. Well, really, I was obsessed with the idea of being liked by others,” she wrote on her website. “I somehow managed to convince myself that when I was ‘Facebook Famous’ I would forever be happy. I figured, the more people that clicked ‘like’ on my photos, the more people actually liked me in real life. Pretty simple right? To be Facebook Famous meant everyone liked you. Girls wanted to be your friend, boys wanted to date you. Everyone talked about you, watched you, stalked you, wanted to be you. It was my dream at 15.”

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?


“Girls would upload together and have sleepovers revolving around ‘watching their photos’. People would gossip about likes at school, over text, to teachers, to parents… ‘She got 200 likes, she’s basically a model now’.”

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.


“Craving attention validated through social media I believe shows a gap in real life connections.”

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


There is nothing zen about trying to look zen, taking a photo of you trying to be zen and proving your zen on Instagram.


NOT REAL LIFE – paid $$$ to promote both the jeans and top. More info on how instagramer’s make a lot of $$$


Please like this photo, I put on makeup, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewellery… 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. THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS. #celebrityconstruct


I was 16 here. 16!!! I did not wear this outfit out of the house, just for the photo. What is the obsession with trying to look older, sexier?


NOT REAL LIFE – paid tea post. Yep likely if you see a girl with a large amount of followers promote a tea with an Instagram tag. They were paid a lot… I did it when I stared at like $300 a post. With my following now I could make $2000AUD a post EASY. I don’t think anything is wrong with being paid to promote products, I will still feature ethical/stuff I use on my site. But not saying it’s paid, that deceit.


Not real life. Only reason we went on the beach this morning was to shoot these bikinis because the company paid me and also I looked good to society’s current standards. I was born and won the genetic lottery. Why else would I have uploaded this photo? Read between the lines, or ask yourself “why does someone post a photo… What is the outcome for them? To make a change? Look hot? Sell something? I thought I was helping young girls get fit and healthy. But I only realised at 19 that placing any amount of self worth on your physical form is so limiting! I could have been writing, exploring, playing, anything beautiful and real… Not trying to validate my worth through a bikini shot with no substance. #celebrityconstruct


“PLEASE VALIDATE MY EFFORTS TO LOOK SEXY WITH MY BUM BEING THE POINT OF THIS PHOTO.” I wish someone would have shook me and said “You have so much more in you than your sexuality” at 16. That was all I thought others wanted, that’s what got likes, that’s what I thought was cool. There is nothing cool about this. This is a photo taken for the sake of trying to get people to like a photo. There is nothing inspiring about that. Social media is an illusion. #celebrityconstruct #behindtheimage


Visit Essena’s new website, LetsBeGameChangers.com, where she tells her story in depth and hopes to encourage others to be present and live authentically.

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