Ever since popular vegan vlogger, Essena Oneill, announced she was quitting Instagram, Youtube, and Tumblr, a conversation has been sparked whether or not social media is detrimental to our lives. She has started a buzz about the facade may bloggers present, if paid posts are shady, and if social media causes unhappiness. This subject has been on my mind for the past few days and I wanted to share my thoughts on the topic. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter so I encourage you to comment after reading!
If you aren’t familiar with Essena Oneill, here’s a little background… Essena rose to popularity on Tumblr and Instagram at the age of 15 for her unfiltered rants, picture perfect selfies and seemingly idealistic life. Since then, she’s amassed over half a million followers on Instagram and hundreds of thousands of YouTube views. She went vegan over a year ago and since then has been working to spread veganism. I personally really enjoyed her What I Eat In A Day videos and was very inspired by her easy meals that were healthy and nourishing. I even created a few of the meals at home! As she rose to fame, she ventured to Los Angeles to pursue a career in modeling after being signed with IMG Australia.
While in LA, Essena posted photos of her and her new LA friends most of whom were also popular bloggers and vloggers. She seemed happy and inspired by the city and soon after arriving in LA, announced she was going to get a visa to stay in the country. She had been presented with amazing opportunities and couldn’t wait to share more about them. Flash forward to October and Essena seemed to completely change. She was now going makeup free and taking days off from social media. She said she was sick of the “celebrity concept” she had created and sought to change that. Then last week she announced she was quitting social media and creating her own site, Let’s Be Game Changers, to expose the truth behind her photos and “brand”.
(Photo Credit: IMG)
From everything I have gathered from Essena’s videos and writings on her current feelings it seems so much of her current situation stems from years of low self-esteem. She admitted that she would spend hours trying to look perfect in her photos and would obsess over the amount of likes she received. I remember when I was her age, social media sites like Tumblr and Instagram weren’t around. What was around was magazines like Teen Vogue and Seventeen. I loved reading these for fashion inspiration and celebrity photoshoots. I would quite frequently look at celebrities like Rachel Bilson and Leighton Meester and wish I looked like them. My own flaws were so much more apparent when comparing myself to seemingly perfect celebrities. Little did I realize the amount of makeup the stars wear, the plastic surgery some choose to undergo, and the photoshop that renders them flawless. As I reached my twenties, the more apparent these truths became. I learned to value myself for more than my looks and celebrate my individuality. I don’t think I was alone in having that experience as a teenage girl. I think it’s so common for girls around the ages of 15-18 to go through an image crisis and suffer from low self-esteem. I don’t blame social media for this given that I went through the same thing even though I didn’t have an Instagram. Unfortunately, we are always going to have the option to compare ourselves. Whether it’s a popular blogger, a girl at your high school, or a starlet on TV, there’s always someone to compare ourselves to. It’s a terrible mistake to make and I believe comparison is truly our worst enemy.
Given that throughout most of her teenage years Essena was being followed by thousands and thousands of girls, I can only imagine her own self-esteem issues were a full-on crisis. Being watched by half a million people as you try to find your place in the world and figure out who you are is quite the challenge. I can completely understand why she left social media, she did what she needed to do to become a happier person. But I think it’s so important to emphasize that that’s her experience, not everyone’s.
Personally, I have had a positive experience on social media. When I first went vegan, I was so excited to be feeling healthy and learning so much new information! But I quickly began having feelings of isolation and loneliness because I didn’t know any other vegans and couldn’t connect with anyone about my new found passion. While my family, boyfriend, and friends were so supportive of my veganism, I longed to form friendships with fellow vegans. After connecting with other vegans on Instagram, I felt so inspired and reinvigorated! It was amazing to find so many like-minded people and get to know them, even if they lived in other states or countries! I can’t imagine how different my vegan experience would have been had I not joined Instagram. Through blogging and Instagram, I made one of my closest friends, Claire. Originally from Texas, Claire was the blogger of Healthy Fare With Claire which was a favorite of mine. After connecting through Instagram, we discovered we had so much more in common than just veganism and blogging! When she moved from Texas to San Diego, we were finally able to hang out in person and we became fast friends. In the past year we’ve had so many adventures; trying new recipes together, going on double dates, and even learning to ski in Big Bear together! Without social media, we would have never met! This is just one example of how social media has positively influenced my life.
I will admit though, it’s easy to get sucked into the numbers aspect of social media. Caring about the amount of followers you have and likes you get is dangerous. In my early blogging days, I had moments of weakness where I would compare myself to another blogger and question why I didn’t have as many followers as them. I eventually realized though that it didn’t matter! Who cares if some other blogger has more followers than you? Does it affect your real life? Chances are, no. What matters is that you recognize your own value and worth to society and that it can’t be defined by a number. I encourage you to stop focusing on the numbers and focus on your own happiness. Write about what you are passionate about, share photos that make you smile, connect with other bloggers! Real life connections are also just as important so keep up your existing friendships and surround yourself with people who uplift you in your day to day life so you won’t need social media to do that for you. It’s important to note if your mental health is being compromised by social media, I encourage you to change the way in which you use it (by taking the above actions) or quit it all together. If you suffer from severe self-esteem issues, I encourage you to seek help from a professional. There should be no shame in seeing therapist and I think therapy can make a world of a difference in your life if you lack confidence or suffer from anxiety and/or depression!
I think it’s important to remember we are all individuals. We all have different experiences with social media. If you are feeling like social media is bringing you down, then you might want to consider how and why you use it. You may even come to the conclusion you should quit. But I do want to point out that quitting will not solve the problem because it’s likely that the true issue is deeply rooted. Removing all forms of social media and even entertainment like TV and movies will not resolve low self-esteem and a need for validation. It’s likely the negative thoughts will only be triggered again in some other way. All you will have done is masked the problem and ignorance is not bliss. To truly solve the problem, you have to look inward. You have to face your lack of confidence and build it up. Mental health is just as important as physical health. As I said above, consider seeking professional help if you are really struggling!
I want to end on this note. What I share on social media serves a purpose. I share outfit photos because I want to show other people that you can love fashion and be cruelty-free. I love sharing about vegan brands that are changing the way we shop. I share food photos because I want to show that vegan food isn’t boring and that even if you have an intolerance like me, your food can still be delicious! Having a special diet can be tough but it is possible to recreate allergy-free vegan versions of your favorite foods! I like to share little moments of my life like a pretty sunset because it shows the beauty that surrounds us. I feel so grateful to live in beautiful Southern California where we are blessed with gorgeous sunsets and wonderful weather so I frequently share photos of that. No, my life isn’t perfect and I don’t ever want to portray that through my Instagram. At the same time, I am always going to be a positive person and share the happy moments in my life because it’s important to be grateful and optimistic. I love sharing snapshots of my life and no one else’s negative experience will change that for me.
What do you think of social media? Will you still use it or has Essena influenced you to quit?