November 4, 2015

Essena O’Neill: A Call To Use Social Media Responsibly.

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With the amount of FOMO (fear of missing out) opportunities social media provides us, I expect “Digital Detox” to become an official clinical term very soon.

How many times have you fallen into the trap of comparing your life to the edited and enhanced lives of complete strangers on Instagram?

I’ve been there too.

Our pop culture and social media are ready for a change and the time is the ever-present now.

Take Essena O’Neill, a 19-year-old Australian blogger with over half a million followers who was making money on Instagram and YouTube posts. O’Neill quit social media last week (sort of) with the slogan, “Social media isn’t real life.”

She has taken down over 2,000 posts and changed the captions on existing photos to provide an insight into the truth behind the flawless images—from how much she was getting paid to endorse brands to the pressure she felt to look perfect.

If we spend hours on social media every week, we inevitably become part of the “liking” game.

As Essena says, “How can we see ourselves and our true purpose/talents if we are constantly viewing others?”

She continues: “Many of us are in so deep we don’t realize [social media’s] delusional powers and the impact it has on our lives. I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance.”

O’Neill writes in her Instagram post from October 27, “[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other.”

“It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation, views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement. I was consumed by it,” she admits.

Essena has received support from other famous social media personalities like Jerome Jarre, who’s familiar with the issues that becoming a social media celebrity brings up.

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An overnight sensation with over 4 million social media followers who became famous for his joy-filled comedic six-second Vine videos, one day, he deleted all posts on Vine and turned down a one million dollar contract to promote something he doesn’t believe in.

He identified it as “an unhealthy food product” and then told the New York Times, “My purpose in life wasn’t to come to New York City to convince people to eat unhealthy food.” His life mission seems to be more aligned with the ideas of personal growth, global happiness and making people smile.

If we look at some of the most followed Instagram accounts (those who can make six-figure salaries just from social media posts), what do we see?

In most cases, the storyline is rather predictable: selfies, bikinis, beaches, toned abs, trendy sneakers, pretty food and expensive handbags.

Gather this: a whole generation of teens is looking at those Insta-celebrities and what kind of understanding of success do they get? To be successful, you should have a pretty face, a flat belly, know food styling and have enough funds to travel to exotic places.

And the thing is, they might not even feel like they’re successful—or happy.

As a health food and lifestyle blogger, I get paid to promote products and services on my Instagram. While making money traveling and creating a beautiful Instagram grid may seem like a life #onfleek, it does come with a flip side.

As a blogger, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the liking game. I confess: I’m a victim.

There’s always a new milestone to reach for. At first, I thought I wouldn’t take it seriously until I had 10K followers. When I had reached the 10K mark, I was envisioning the 20K mark to change the way I saw myself. Now I have a community of over 50k followers and I get boxes of free superfoods and clothes every week. But in my mind, I keep looking up at bloggers who have more followers. Photos that got under one thousand likes didn’t feel good enough. Posts with under 500 likes got deleted. You’re probably thinking, “What a distorted perception of reality.” And you’re right.

Ready to hear the funniest thing?

My posts that got the highest amount of “likes”, in the 3,000s, didn’t even feel that great. Yes, for a few short moments I would feel proud of myself and take a mental note on the kind of post that worked, but after a few minutes, the feeling vanishes. And the game continues.

By voicing and sharing this with you, I hope to not only spread awareness around this issue, but to really start shifting the way we think about social media. I don’t want our society to define success based on “likes”, “followers” and being accepted.

I get to live the life that I precisely crafted on my vision boards and I still find myself feeling like I’m not doing well enough (which as a rule of thumb happens after an Instagram scrolling session).

Hearing my friends and industry leaders I look up to complement and admire the empire I’ve created doesn’t help, despite my work being mentioned by many major publications and celebrities.

There’s a voice in my head that keeps comparing my number of followers with other bloggers and if my community isn’t growing as fast or isn’t giving me as many “likes” as I’d expect, I feel deep dissatisfaction and start analyzing what I did wrong (read: what’s wrong with me).

That very comparison of our lives to other people’s lives—made so easy thanks to social media—is what diminishes our souls and takes us farther from our life’s missions.

I realized the absurdity of this way of thinking when talking to an Instagram friend at another Instagram friend’s party. She confessed that she’s having real-life problems with a member of her family because she wasn’t “liking” that family member’s vacation Instagram posts. You’re on vacation. Ready to let loose. Explore the culture, check out the beach, damnit.

But no, your phone’s screen and the lives on the other side of it are more important.

I now realize that those hunger games of Instagram can’t dictate how I feel in real life.

While social media engagement can be measured in dollar amounts when it comes to how much a brand pays you for posts, in terms of real fulfillment, it’s worth next to nothing.

The question is, for what?

Let me tell you: Instagram numbers is a big money game. With 50,000 followers you can be paid $500 for an Instagram post, with 500K—$2,000 and with a million—over $10,000. And while it all started with fashion bloggers dominating the game, the wellness and yoga world is catching up.

Anti-social media rebellion is arising right alongside the surge in posts.

I’ve had a deep hope in my heart that the next generation will at some point rise against social media and make living the real life cool, once again. It’s already happening. And it’s our responsibility to lead by example.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying social media is evil.

Thanks to it, I am already, in many ways, living the life I couldn’t even dream of as a teenager growing up in Russia (one of my biggest fears was growing up to be a clerk with a boring desk job).

I get to travel and meet wildly inspiring people every day while sharing my passion for a healthful, adventure-filled, dream big/live big kind of life. I also get to share a lot of these perks with my friends with delicious meals and I get to bring them along on trips.

Sharing experiences is the most fulfilling part of it all, really. So is having the platform to spread the word about the causes I care about. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to connecting and spreading important messages far and wide. But it’s about the kinds of messages we choose to share and the intention behind it. If you’re promoting products and services that truly resonate with you and are of service to humanity and the Earth, bravo!

But that’s not always the case.

As a seasoned social media addict, I’ve got a few suggestions.

I invite you to redefine success. The only way to feel success, really feel it in your bones, is to create your definition of it. I’ll only give you one rule: it cannot include numbers. On social media, in your bank, on the scale—doesn’t matter.

Instead, focus on how it will make you feel inside instead of any external validators. Sit down with a journal and write exactly how success feels inside your body. To me, success is doing what I love and moving the world with my gift (no matter what form it takes).

Like Rumi said, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

That’s something that you never get to see behind the perfectly crafted photos. At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with numbers.

Here’s another revolutionary idea. For someone (probably a lot of those famous Instagrammers we follow) creating beautiful images is their art. It’s what they’re naturally skilled at. Looking at their posts and thinking that you should do something similar is like a cow wanting to be more like a camel. A cow that thinks to herself, “This camel is cool. That means humps are in. I must find a way to have one or two!”

Like Essena said in a YouTube video, “I thought my value was my body. I thought that by looking better, people would listen to me.”

While people may follow and listen to you based on your looks, there is absolutely no deep fulfillment that having your looks validated can bring you, especially in the long run. It’s about your gift—about that message that you’re in this world to deliver.

This may sound radical, but consider this: if you were to die tomorrow, what is the one message, the one gift you would leave behind?

From there, you can find many ways to express your gift.

What comes naturally to you and draws people in?

What are your innate skills?

What is an experience you’ve gone through that has changed your life?

Once again, it could be something that can’t be measured in numbers.

My gift is connecting. People, places, things, stories. I love those a-ha moments that give meaning to life and intoxicate me with the sweet feeling of being alive and healthy. Using food has been a medium that has worked for me, but I’ll be honest, I can give you at least thirty names of people who are much more skilled at cooking, food styling and food photography than I am.

Ksenia Avdulova: Behind the scenes

In fact, I’m the most impatient food photographer there is—I’m usually done and ready to move on after about five quick photos. I just feel like there are so many more important things to do in the world than spend 30 minutes assembling and photographing a meal.

And while food has played an important role in my own spiritual revolution, it was only a step. A step that changed me on a cellular level and an entryway into something bigger—intro a truly magical way of living based on the idea that nothing is separate from the one energy field that links everything. And that by elevating our vibrations, we elevate the quality of our lives and the energy of the planet as a whole.

The only way to do it?

Going inside ourselves for answers more often than going outside to look at strangers on the Internet. Because inside is where the real life happens. When you’re able to find that place of peace and integrity inside, no numbers or words from other people will affect your life experience.

We’re ready for the possibility of a different definition of success, one that doesn’t validate us on the perfection of our abs, price tag on our clothes and perfect symmetry of our smoothie bowls. And the way it’s going to happen is bottoms up, by a few people with influence rising up and choosing a different path and setting an example for many more.

Truly nourishing food is about wholesome ingredients and being present for your meal, not about a perfectly assembled avocado toast against a marble background with hashtag #avocado.

Truly moving yoga teachings are passed on heart to heart in person through real life experiences, not a serene beach meditation photo posted on social media.

Truly transformative travel experiences happen when you put down your phone and map and let your heart guide you.

Living life is being able to sit down with who you truly are. It’s continuing to work on finding peace within yourself, instead of binge watching reality TV, playing video games, or spending hours on social media every day.

A truly beautiful human is the one who follows their heart and inspires others to do the same, not one who takes the most perfect selfie with flawless makeup. The one who is so radically herself/himself, that others are inspired to step into their own unique beauty (which all souls inherently radiate).

Want to remember the experience all of the above?

Talk to the cashier at the grocery store. Make eye contact on the subway. Look up. Remember what it’s like to be present in your own life. I’m not inviting the world to quit social media. I’m simply reminding myself (and hopefully you), why it exists in the first place: to connect, expand and grow.

Let’s use it responsibly.


Relephant Read:

Essena O’Neill: An Instagram Star Learns a Life Lesson the Hard Way.


Author: Ksenia Avdulova

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Images: Author’s own and Twitter & Instagram/Jerome Jarre

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