should we leave essena o’neill alone?
“Let’s talk about something more than a 19-year-old Instagram famous girl,” says social media’s teen whistleblower.
Sometimes the internet feels like high school. And the story of Instagram teen Essena O'Neill is beginning to feel like Mean Girls.
Last weekend, the model and social media star purged her Instagram account and re-captioned her remaining bikini and sport-bra shots with comments about the sponsorship deals and elaborate staging that went on behind-the-scenes. She also launched a website, Let's Be Game Changers, in the hopes of creating a "positive collaborative forum for individuals to talk about REAL WORLD stuff." Her intentions seemed honest, even if she was asking for money to help fund her now-sponsorless lifestyle.
Clearly, however, her exposé was not going to go down well with her former clique. Yesterday, twin California Youtubers Nina and Randa, responded with a video of their own, called "ESSENA O'NEILL Quitting Social Media Is A HOAX." (Caps theirs.) The twins had met Essena through social media and she had recently been to stay with them in California. It was clear they felt personally victimized. In the video, the sisters argue that "the reason [Essena's] so upset is because of this breakup with a guy," that her online success was a myth anyway ("you don't even go here!") and that her campaign is "just as fake as an edited image."
And they aren't the only angry teens. While Essena has received support from both other Instagram personalities and celebrities including Sophia Bush, the negative feels have been just as strong. The twins' brother shared his own video essay. Acacia Brinley, a British YouTuber, posted a response expressing her disbelief. And, as New York magazine reports, even a detractor from the online vegan community has weighed in. (Essenia is also hoping to promote veganism and "conscious living" on her new site.)
Essenia for her part, seems both grateful and resentful of the interest in her story. On Monday, she posted a video called, "OVERWHELMED AND BEYOND WORDS GRATEFUL" (so many emotions, so many capital letters). But the next day she followed with a plea for everyone to "talk about something more than [a]19-year-old Instagram famous girl."
What is fake, what is real? Is Essenia O'Neill a social media savant or a Chris Crocker for the selfie generation? One thing's for sure, she's started a conversation and - far from wanting to go offline, as she advises - we want to talk about it.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson