Australian teen social media sensation Essena O'Neill had mastered the arts of selfies, bikini shots, and fitspiration (with 500,000 Instagram followers to show for it) when she announced that she was quitting social media to focus on educating her fans about its potential evils. She has since deleted her Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Tumblr accounts and has started a website, Let's Be Game Changers, and a Vimeo channel. On both of these, she reveals the unhealthy measures she took to gain — and maintain — her internet fame. In her newest video, O'Neill lays bare the truth of how she stayed thin for all those fitspiration photos.
"When I was younger, I would save [photos of] all of these beautiful fitness models," she says. "From a young age, I had this idea that to love myself meant to look like these girls... I should work out excessively... I should eat really, really small meals." O'Neill felt so far from the perfection that her idols represented to her, but "after enough tanning, exercise, makeup, turns out I fit their standards, and I posted images like this of myself, and everyone told me how much of an inspiration I was, and how they looked up to me as a fitness inspiration." She says, however, that her eating and exercise habits — which included skipping meals and restricting calories — had nothing to do with self-respect and everything to do with image. "I am an inspiration for meeting society's impossible standards for women," she stresses. "That is not inspirational. Being as slim and as toned as I was in the picture is not creating world change. It's creating other people to want to be as slim and toned as I am." Watch the video above for O'Neill's refreshingly straightforward account of how the endless pursuit of thinness is packaged as self-love on social media.