I hadn't heard of Essena O' Neill until recently. That's hardly surprising as I'm too old to be part of her demographic. But news that she was speaking out about how unsatisfying her life as an Instagram star (with 612,000 followers) had become was interesting. On her website (http://www.letsbegamechangers.com) O'Neill states- 'When you stop comparing and viewing yourself against others, you start to see your own spark and individuality.'
She's posted comments on her photos that expose the hard work and effort that went into creating them. She argues that we shouldn't let the number of 'likes' define how we feel.
And it feels like something that's been rumbling on under the glossy surface of our online lives for a while.
Some people might be cynical and say that this is actually gifting O'Neill a reinvigorated brand personality but I applaud her move. I don't worry too much about having the perfect 'thigh gap' anymore (that's one of the advantages of growing older) but nevertheless social media often makes me unhappy. It makes me behave like a fraud. I don't share the bad days when life as a working parent is shit. And whilst I would never prance up to someone in real life and say 'Hey look at my child and the lovely jelly I made for their birthday party,' I would happily share this on Instagram. Parents on Instagram tend to focus on the idealised version of parenthood. There are plentiful photos of kids supping on kale smoothies in French designer beanie hats.
At a recent Mums networking event (the fantastic 'Mothers Meeting' run by Jenny Scott) the discussion revolved around how unhappy we all were whenever we looked at these idealistic family images. The holidays where toddlers sit happily on the beach instead of howling from mosquito bites. The meals where you don't see the tablecloth being pulled off and the plates smashed on the floor. We know the images aren't real but we can't tear our eyes away. And we know it's not healthy either. It's like watching 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' and shovelling fried chicken down our throats. Trawling these images makes us feel dirty and a bit weird. Yet nevertheless we feed the monster by failing to show the reality (there are a few who are starting to shake things up but they're still few and far between).
I'm also worried what will happen to my daughter if the pressure to share a purely rose-tinted view of life continues. I've spoken to friends with teenage daughters and they worry about how much more self-obsessed and critical social media is making them. It's also difficult when they see themselves being excluded from social situations (parties not invited to, fun times being had). In the past we would have never been privy to the all the things our friends were up to. We didn't sit in our beds worrying about how good-looking they were whilst having all this fun behind our backs.
When I was a teenager fashion magazines were probably the main sources of insecurity for me. And these magazines weren't accessible every second of the day. Still I remember longing to look like Yasmin Le Bon (I even changed my second name to Yasmin hoping it would transform me into a successful model). Then my best friend was scouted by a modelling agency and this made a huge dent in my confidence. Most men that approached me back then wanted to go out with my model friend. I once had a guy come up to me at a party and tell me I looked like a goat (I don't think I do but I'm sure some people online might agree). I cried for days. These pressures were bad enough but they were minimal compared to what teenagers go through now.
When you're still getting to grips with your identity and struggling with self-esteem issues it's tough. An offhand comment can send you reeling. If you have a spot on your chin it feels like the end of the world. There is a huge amount of emphasis on getting your hair just right. But now it's not about leafing through a magazine. Or having one guy come up and say something mean. Now every picture you see (even the ones of your friends) have been manipulated with filters. Now everyone comments on them and can say horrible stuff. We need reminding that this focus on aesthetics, this glossy projection isn't real life (and even some of the people creating this fiction feel crappy about what they're doing).
For me O' Neill's move to expose the tyranny of Instagram is a good thing. If she builds a new brand for herself talking about these pressures then good luck (I appreciate she only represents a privileged good-looking minority but we can't persecute people for being blessed with good genes).
Next I hope some of the parents out there will stop shoving photos of their beloved offspring eating kale in my face. I don't want to see your quinoa salad either. Or your perfect hair whilst you're breastfeeding.
I promise I'll stop if you do.