If you’ve been online anywhere in the Western World this week chances are you’ve heard of Essena O’Neill. Otherwise known in the mainstream media as the famous young Instagram model who doused her career in gasoline, set it on fire and danced around the flames with the whole world watching.

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Not too long ago, Essena had over half a million Instagram followers and a quarter of a million subscribers on her YouTube channel. But then in what the media is calling a “breakdown” she deleted over 2,000 photos, leaving a select few with captions revealing the truth about the photo and how long they took to perfect, went inactive on her YouTube and Snapchat accounts and launched a tirade against the bullshit saturated facade that is social media modelling. And then last light, her Instagram account has disappeared completely and she launched a website with various inspirational content >>> http://www.letsbegamechangers.com/.

Now, there’s nothing I love more than someone, particularly a young woman, throwing caution to the wind and telling it like it is; pointing out the ways in which system we are in is just a little bit fucked.

We want our people thinking. We want our people brave. We want our people raw.

But i’m a bit worried that in this whole hurricane people are focussing on Essena the individual and not her message. And in doing that it puts an expiry date on the whole message she’s trying to get out there, as it’s already happening in the multitude of ways certain people are setting out to ruin her credibility. She’s upset because her boyfriend dumped her and is blaming the whole Instagram world, according to friends and social media celebrities Randa and Nina. She’s just trying to get more followers but in a different way, some are claiming, as in the last few days her Instagram followers skyrocketed by over 200,000. But everyone’s talking about Essena- no ones talking about the message.

I think Essena’s story is a good sign that more and more, we’re starting to ask questions. We’re starting to question our system and the lies about happiness we’ve been indoctrinated to believe. Do we rely on the approval for others for validation? Are we working toward happiness with a particular aesthetic in mind, one that actually is staged and doesn’t even exist?

But what we’re seeing now is huge swathes of people idolizing or demonizing her. Media is presenting her as either a hero or crackpot. But what if she’s neither? What if she’s just… you know, a person?

Let’s not focus on her. Do not praise her or idealize her or put her on a pedestal because that leaves no room for her to fail. It puts her in the exact same position as she was before, and it also reduces her to stupid little things like her appearance, the way she is presenting her message and her subsequent success. Not the message itself.

In this new world she’s stepped into, deviating from the norm, opening her eyes and asking some tough questions about the nature of the world- welcome, sister!- she needs room to fail. Because she is not the God. She is a carrier of the same message millions of people carry. She is starting to wake up like all of us over here on the Salty side of life have, but the difference is she’s got the whole world trying to navigate it.

As she said in her own words:

I don’t want approval anymore, it traps me into thinking I need more and more and more. I don’t want to be liked or judged either. I want a place where I can give with no expectations or outcome. I don’t want followers anymore. I want a world of individual beings.”

 I hope she means it.

In her video she says: “I told myself that when I have heaps of views, people will view me. I will feel valued. I will feel happiness. I let myself be defined by numbers. You’d think getting 100,000 followers on instagram would be amazing. It was for the day. But then you want 200,000. When you define yourself by numbers, you’re defining yourself by something that is not pure. That is not real. And that is not love.

Essena herself is not a promise to save us all. She’s not a muse. She’s not a victim of her choices, no matter what the media will have you believe.  She’s not there for us content-munching consumers to snack on. She is not a ‘like’ on a screen and we must be careful now not to put her back into that light of the goddess who can do no wrong, even if it now is in that raw, ballsy way we so like over here.

No. We don’t do that here. Just like the Sarah Kay poem –She is woman– skin and bones, veins and nerves, hair and sweat. Everyone is equal and amazing and worthy of endless love and that should just be standard. So let’s not focus on her. Let’s focus on the message. And how we can use that to collectively return to where we rightfully live, and that is in a world of love and compassion.

Elite daily said “we need more people like Essena.” Put a little caret between the “people” and the “like” and make it “we need more people promoting and living the message like Essena.”

That is how we change the world. By thinking about how to best make a system that benefits the majority. Not by bowing before the individual.

The message of:

Love and compassion and connection with nature and other sentient beings as the only true way to happiness. The fact that you can’t seek validation from anywhere other than yourself.

Why has something as simple as that turned into a shit-storm?

It’s so simple.

Now that’s out the way, let’s talk a little bit about Instagram.

Let’s acknowledge Essena’s situation is a very extreme representation of how self worth is tied up in social media. But give me someone who doesn’t get a small buzz when their photos are swamped with likes and I’ll give you a liar. So where does that leave us? Do we all need to make like Essena and ditch all our social media accounts?

I don’t think so.

Here’s how I think about it: Instagram is just the new-school version of an old-school, hard-copy photo album. It’s not a window to someone’s full, real, every day life and it never claimed to be. It’s just a snapshot of the magical bits.

Personally I think Instagram is a pretty amazing tool. It’s a little photo album I get to show the world about the places i’ve been and the things i’ve done and in turn I get to see snippets of some of the cool stuff other people are doing, sometimes from the other side of the world!

I want to look back on the awesome trips I took and days I had and the people I had them with and yes, I want to capture the times I felt like I looked beautiful. I want to share this with other people, yes. But my happiness isn’t dependent on their reaction. In turn, we like browsing through Instagram on our lunch break and seeing all the beautiful places, quotes and things the world has to offer.

But if someone was ever to say to me “you have the perfect life” i’ll be the first person to tell them about the fears and insecurities that come along for the ride with me most days.

And i’d expect anyone else with a bitchin’ Instagram to be just ask open and honest about the daily struggles they face when asked. But what’s the merit of trying to capture that aesthetically when all anyone wants to do on their quick scroll on Instagram is have a good time? You didn’t ask to be reminded of all the worlds problems on your morning scroll where you just wanted to be reminded that there’s some beauty in the world before slugging it out at work.

That wasn’t a photo albums role then and it certainly isn’t Instagram’s role now.

We have to acknowledge Instagram is just everyone’s highlight reel. None of the bad stuff. And it will continue to be. What we can do is just safeguard ourselves from the companies that invade the space, like the bully in the schoolyard ruining the fun for everyone else, by paying no mind when certain images are telling us that we have to buy, something to feel something, to have something, to be something.

We need to recognize that we actually already have everything we need to feel and be that. We honestly only need so little to be happy. And perhaps, what we need is really to be able to enjoy the moments with the precious ones without always thinking “How can I show this to the world ?”. You don’t. Just live and embrace it in the now.
And if you find yourself wanting to enjoy some pretty pictures now and then, to inspire yourself, to make you discover new places and things… then we’re fine. Just be conscious in your relationship with those medias.

The sexiest thing in the entire world is being smart; and being thoughtful and being generous. Everything else is crap. I promise you. It’s just crap that people try to sell you to make you feel less. So don’t buy it.

You are whole. And you are amazing. You’ve got a smile that could change the world, woman, and you don’t need external validation through likes for that. Get out, and go spread that light in real life with the people around !

The more you smile, the more people smile back to you. And that’s the ultimate best reward…

One love !