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Australian social media star Essena O'Neill went viral this month (opens in new tab) after she very publicly left her half-million followers on Instagram and changed the captions on her photos to reveal just how much scrutiny and effort went into crafting each seemingly effortlessly "perfect" shot. Her bravery exposed the fact that all those aspirational accounts we simultaneously worship and worry over are just that—aspirations. They're not really real (opens in new tab).
In a new vimeo video entitled "Love Gets Likes," O'Neill has taken on another parasitic social media trend: fake couples who get together purely for the purpose of boosting their views.
She recounts an incident in which she was pursued by a famous supermodel in Thailand who proposed having an "online relationship" in order to bump up their followings, go on free trips, and "get heaps of money."
"He said in the industry it's not unheard of to do this and that it's actually very smart and that I should think of it seriously as a business proposal," she says in the video. "I think it really shocked me that this person was only pursuing me because I have a heap of followers and a somewhat carefree personality online and looked beautiful in pictures."
The model in question asked her to send him a photo before she went to bed so she spent ages trying to make herself look gorgeous and natural, but, of course, it wasn't real. Now, O'Neill says she realizes that someone who loves you should love you for what you really look like and not the facade you try to create.
"I think my whole idea of relationships was so aesthetics-based," she says. "I think I want to focus on being just my dirty self and having someone love me for who's inside."
O'Neill's video comes in the midst of a somewhat unavoidable backlash (opens in new tab) from critics who say that it's hypocritical of her to bash social media through social media, becoming more famous than ever in the process. Whether you think O'Neill is a saint or a poser, however, there's no doubt that she's started a very important conversation on the illusions we build over the Internet and the crippling pressure people feel nowadays to make their lives seem ideal.
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My writing has regularly appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, Salon, VICE, Guernica, The New York Observer, BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Esquire, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and many more publications.
I was previously the Senior News Editor at Best Life Online and the Viral Content Editor in the Newsroom of Hearst Digital Media. My portfolio consists of a vast and diverse body of work that includes personal essays, lifestyle articles, breaking news posts, and viral content. My areas of expertise, however, are Russia, sex and relationships, and mental wellness.
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