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Essena ONeill and The Edited Self

“Happiness based on aesthetics will suffocate your potential” – Essena ONeill.

Up until about a week ago, I never thought I would mention Essena ONeill on Omology. Essena is a 19-year-old lifestyle blogger from the Sunshine Coast who has built an online empire of over half a million followers on Instagram alone. Following  Essena has been a very mixed experience. Whilst she shared her genuine journey of veganism and conscious consumer choices, these messages were shared amongst a gallery of her rock hard stomach and a life that seemed almost attainable if one was to take just enough selfies and drink the right tea. 

I found Essena through her Youtube channel over a year ago in search of becoming educated on veganism. Her videos are informative and inspiring, and when she spoke about this particular lifestyle choice, you could see true happiness in her eyes. However, it was hard to stay focussed on the facts, when there was a lot of mixed messages that surrounded her image. As with much of the conscious living community, there seems to be a strong relation between a “successful” spiritual path and an idealised physical form. A connection, that through my own struggles and learnings along my personal journey, I have come to stand strongly against! This kind of mixed messaging puts pressure on people to fit into certain social constructs, that simply don’t exist.

I’m not at all pointing the finger at Essena, she is a gorgeous, wise and compassionate 19-year-old girl doing great things on her path. In fact her journey of realisation is fascinating, and completely admirable. This young girl spent her teenage years chasing a life of satisfaction and stability on social media. With the ideal combination of winning the genetic lottery and a lot of hard work, Essena gained international success from big brand deals, to top-end modelling contracts. Rather than the predicted bliss of reaching all your career goals before you’ve even left your teens would provide, it seems Essena was given something much more important. The view from the top was able to completely flip her perspective. Essena is now able to pursue more authentic passions of hers, instead of being consumed by constant scrolling and comparisons.

These last few months of watching Essena’s journey draws resemblance to watching the inevitable breakdown of a nineties child star – you just can’t look away! Fortunately, with this tale you could spot an inevitable breakthrough in the horizon instead. She started to question everything she was posting or promoting, and it was a really powerful process to be a part of!

Last week Essena decided to leave the social media world behind. She has since deleted photos that she now recognises as deceptive. What is left on her account is re-captioned images to reveal the real moments behind those “candid” shots. The space now serves to empower and educate, through a beautifully curated collection of posts. It is powerful.

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Essena has uncovered the fleeting elation of self-promotion success on social media to a generation who, unfortunately, find a lot of their own value and insecurities through likes and views.

“It was never my conscious intention, but I deluded a lot of people…Call it deception, manipulation, lying, not saying the whole truth… I was both addicted to social approval and terrified no one would value me for myself. So I rewrote the captions of these false photos with short shots of reality.”

Essena is just one person, in a sea of over 80 million images shared each day on social media such as Instagram. Navigating the world of social media and how it can serve us positively as individuals and as an interconnected consciousness is tough. I have by no means found the answer or best practice.

I am becoming more aware of the effect of  images I post and what type of world and culture it cultivates. The images within the yoga industry very regularly focus on the physical form, which sadly deter many people from practicing. Rather than making yoga accessible, and communicating the inward path of self-realisation in which the real rewards come from, yoga in the media is quite elusive and exclusive.

It has really been showing up for me lately how important it is to share informed and inclusive content at all times. Diversity, rawness and real knowledge is something I consistently strive towards.

It’s not easy, and I have to regularly check-in with my intentions with each new image or word I put out there. The thought of ever sharing images that make anyone want to be anything other than themselves is heartbreaking. Even the thought of editing our human experience is terrifying. Promoting a perfect body, or even a perfect mindset of just happiness and laughter, neglects the absolute awe in our flaws and our moments of despair.

At this stage, my approach is to do my part in projecting the truth as best I can. I’m learning so much more about yoga every single day, and messages I shared a year ago may not match my truth today, but it is a journey. A quote I love, which sums up how you should approach individuals or brands on Instagram –

I can chose to let it define me, confine (2)

People have mixed feeling about whether Essena is losing it or finding it, but I’m really excited to follow her journey of discovery! You can check out her new website which has some awesome topics and opportunities from ethical products, meet-ups with purpose and gender equality – win!

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