“It’s not real!” Instagram model Essena O’Neill insisted earlier this week. By “it,” O’Neill seems to mean everything that happens in the fabricated, glass world of the screen. Instagram, however, is her particular target. 400 million people now use the platform every month. That makes it even bigger than Twitter. For many users, it’s an innocent way to record and share memories. But having amassed half a million followers and tens of thousands of likes in the pursuit of image-based validation, O’Neill has a more jaded view. In an emotional video (which has since been deleted), she bemoans the years she wasted living on screen, manufacturing images of a seemingly happy, fun-filled life. “I realized I didn’t know myself without social media and without my physical appearance,” she explains.
O’Neill has also edited the captions of her pictures to expose the artifice behind them. A picture of her reclining, bikini-clad, on the beach, now reads, ““NOT REAL LIFE—took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals.”