The last few days have seen Aussie teen blogger Essena O’Neil thrust into global mainstream media with the headline that she wants to quit social media. Why? Because it is fake.
Essena is hugely popular on social media. Before the publicity push she was sitting at 500k followers she is now at over 900k ( the cynical PR hack in me is currently being handled). Her YouTube and Tumblr accounts have also been a fantastically popular.
You may remember Essena allowed me to write a blog post about positive body image in the lead up to The Sydney Skinny 2014. She was the only blogger to support me in the lead up to the swim and I approached numerous people including several plus size bloggers. Silence. I knew then that she genuinely saw the issue of body confidence as real and necessary – I didn’t know the reason why.
Being a blogger can have its perks but it does open one up to criticism – which I’m sure she is feeling in full force right now. For her to achieve what she has is no small feat; especially at such a young age. Her YouTube video message is distressing to me because it is clearly a cry for help as she questions who she really is. I know full well how confronting this process is – it partly explains my recent silence.
To grow up being obsessed with the measurements of your body and desperately wanting to be accepted into what people view as the cool group is crazy. Treating your body with respect is so important (and something I have not always done) but letting this define who you are and your values is nothing short of misguided. Wanting to put ones best foot forward is important but what chance do children have when the message about being skinny as the ultimate life goal is consistently being pushed by role models?
I am not suggesting that people shouldn’t strive to be accepted. Everyone wants, and deserves, to be accepted but that doesn’t mean it’s in the most talked about or visible form. Sometimes being accepting is challenging the status quo – if you think it, others will agree with it too.
I’ve struggled with this in my life. I’m a middle class, white female; my life and what should be important to me is pre determined in the eyes of most. But anyone who knows me, knows that my spirit came from either an African American or Latina woman / gay man – culturally very diverse to my upbringing. Anyone who knows me, sees a passion and curisoity bubble under the surface which I struggle to unleash in an a suitable way. When I do it typically looks like a big mess. How do I marry my differences with my value system to create my authentic and fulfilling life? Maybe I need to sit with Essena over a cup of tea and chat it through; I’ve no doubt we would learn to pave our own paths
Essena is 19 years old and is already asking herself remarkably profound questions about who she is. She has what many view as the perfect body type and yet there she is crying on camera because of how miserable she is. Maybe it’s not what is on the outside but how you feel about yourself inside. Maybe it’s about channeling that sense of authenticity and focusing one a bigger goal/movement.
For a 12 year old to obsessively Google the measurements of models waists because she wanted a lifestyle she believed to be real is heartbreaking. I’m not a hater of social media because so much good has come from it but the vast majority of us seem to get believe the white pearly smiles of those plastered on social media are real and permanent. They may be real during that snapshot but they are not lasting. Nothing is forever in this world.
There is no doubt this country and many others around the world have a very skewed view of what a normal body or life looks like. If only there were more 12 year olds learning about inspirational people, history, arts, world issues then maybe people would learn what is important to them. Or maybe images and conversation around beauty were different children would grow up to be more accepting of themselves and in turn others.
This media storm around Essena has come at a time where I am asking myself the same questions. And for the first time in a really long time I see a far brighter future as I focus on myself, others and the greater environment we share. Sometimes the devil truely is in the detail.
Essena, haters are going to hate so fuck ’em.