Keepin' It Real Pop Culture Public Journaling

Essena Oneill’s Story From a Travel Blogger’s Perspective

Estimated Reading Time: 15 minutes

essenaoneill quits social media viral

What started out as just another stock photo of a hot, blonde used for click-bait to get people to read senseless articles, soon turned into one of the most viral stories to hit the internet this year.

Her face was plastered all over my news feed, and being the rebel I am, I stayed as far away as possible. What could possibly be so important and why is this getting so much attention? Fine, right-click, save link. You got me Facebook, I’ll read it on the toilet later.

A few days passed and that’s when you awesome readers started messaging me about my thoughts on the ordeal, and how/if it’s affected my journey as a travel blogger, as my job does essentially revolve around social media.

So I finally gathered an attention-span and decent Wi-Fi long enough to sit through the video that started the whole ordeal. A 17-minute rant about Essena O’neill’s journey and rise to stardom through social media, amassing followers upwards of half a million on just Instagram alone (which she’s now deleted).

It’s really hard to understand the context of this article, so if you haven’t watched the video, here you are. But please, don’t continue reading without seeing it, because I go over key points later on:

Okay, so yeah… that was kinda, hmm, intense? A wee bit dramatic? Extremely heartfelt? Lord knows and you all are entitled to your opinions nonetheless.

What made things even more interesting, was seeing this video that further breaks down Essena’s story by adding the other side. The people who she stayed with in LA who felt personally attacked by Essena’s claims of how miserable everyone in LA is and was. You can peep the Mean Girl spin-off and sassiness here.

Okay, so now that we’re caught up, does this not feel like one long, drawn-out high school drama between a bunch of popular girls? Arguing over whose first-world problems need more addressing? Things got catty quick. And alas, the internet responded… hard. People were either Pro-Essena or Anti-Essena. I found no in-betweens.

But before I wanted to comment on this situation, I really tried to grasp all sides. I found myself lost in this crazy web of wide worlds, perusing old videos and journalings of Essena and others in the industry, trying to truly empathize and understand.

And while the convenience of Twitter and Facebook allow us to make impulsive judgements and claims on stories manipulated by headlines, here are some things I want you guys to remember about this story overall.

essena oneill quits social media viral
BEFORE: The seemingly perfect portrait of another Insta-model that fill the news feeds of millions around the world.


Essena is 19 years old. An adult, yes, but nineteen. Teen of nines. Ease up, Internet.

She stated multiple times that she was talking to her 12-year old self and fellow teens who might be on a path to get caught up in the wrong kind of things.

People have to realize that not everything put on the internet is meant for your consumption! There’s a target audience for each message, and in the beginning, she clearly says this, but her bold claims make her more rational statements lost in a sea of raging generalizations.

She was also clearly in a state of delirium, and watching her other videos, you can tell the girl has definitely got deeper issues going on. Mental illnesses are real and her choosing to broadcast this sudden mental purge is her prerogative.

We all go through our own personal battles, usually privately, and just because her meltdown is being viewed across the globe, doesn’t make her any less human or less deserving of empathy.

Social media platforms are arguably one of the most powerful things in the world once you’ve gained a substantial following. You have the power and authority to use it as openly and responsibly as you want. But trying to label all social media has deceptive and disgusting because your personal journey was filled with it, is a bit dramatic.

She is a brilliant writer. The more I read her stuff and watched her videos, the more I saw a girl for what she is when you take off her internet facade. She has a way of captivating an audience, and whether you’re in that audience or not, the support/criticism she’s garnered from around the world is a testament to that.

It’s easier to claim otherwise, but there are no absolutes in life. When people make statements as if it’s “all or nothing”, you really open doors for criticism, because there will always be outliers and exceptions. I get the need to use absolutes in a hyperbolic sense, but you can’t get carried away like she did in the video.

She mentions starting her fascination of wanting to be internet famous since the age of 12, and I remember thinking how I was barely on AIM chat, and hadn’t even heard of MySpace by that age.

There’s a reason social networks have an age-restriction and I don’t have kids, nor am I trying to parent yours, but that type of pressure and exposure to that lifestyle at 12-years-old definitely did more bad than good. And it’s something to think about with your own offspring.

Speaking of, where are her parents? Her publicist? Her manager? She is/was/still might be a 19-year-old Instagram star. There was someone booking her gigs, arranging her flights, and helping build her career. This is where the allegations of a publicity stunt might seem valid, because it could be a really well-orchestrated play that will have our attention for a couple weeks and we’ll never hear from her again, or this is just her, on her own, genuinely wanting to change.


Throughout her videos, she talks about how all social media is bad instead of specifying how the bad was only because of her prior obsession with it as a tool of validation.

By making such broad, lazy, and sweeping generalizations, she invalidates the very good points she does make and I think that’s where a lot of her critics are right.


What you see online is only a glimpse/small percentage of a person’s reality. Never look to an Instagram gallery to grasp a full impression of someone’s life. That’s what Snapchat is for, lol, but really.

To an extent, we all “craft” our lives online. We share the fun, happy, and best moments, because what good does spreading hate and negativity about your life bring, except awkward and unwanted pity parties.

Social media is meant to share amazing milestones we hit, crazy adventures with friends, and life-long memories we create, and however much or little effort you put into curating your online story, is a conversation that only needs to be had with yourself.

Instagram and every other social media platform for businesses have always been and will always be used to advertise something, some way, in some form.

The truth is, social media is the 2nd largest influencer in our decision-making and choices. We look to our circle of friends, people we respect, and those we follow for advice, tips, and guidance in everyday things.

Companies realize how powerful this digital era is, and that’s why more than ever, brands are redirecting their marketing budget towards social media influencers, because we’re influential and we leverage our social media. That’s our job!

Someone else’s inauthenticity about what they promote shouldn’t make you personally feel guilty about anything.

We’ve all seen the Instagram models who promote the organic and herbal teas. Do they drink it? I don’t know, lemme just crawl into one of their stomachs real quick and see.

A person who promotes something they don’t use or believe in doesn’t normally last very long, because your readers will eventually see right through your quick-buck-making ways.

Essena admitted to chasing a false sense of happiness. She chased a goal and people that she idolized based on a false sense of value and worth. If you ever find yourself chasing happiness through someone else’s journey, it’s time to re-evaluate your life.

Inversely, just because you’re making money doing something online, doesn’t mean you’re compromising yourself, or that it’s automatically fake or dishonest. This was the message Essena was sending, and I whole-heartedly disagreed.

Her industry is much more susceptible to this type of behavior, but at the end of the day, we’ve all got mouths to feed. And if you use and believe in something and you’re getting paid to help market it to your audience, which a brand thinks you could reach better than they can, then that my friends, is called GOOD BUSINESS and SMART MARKETING.

To wrap things up, the message who this was intended for (social-media obsessed teens) makes some very valid points. So despite the drama of it all, don’t undermine those who did draw inspiration from this because there were some powerful words shared throughout my 60+ minutes of binge-watching.

essena oneill quits social media viral
AFTER: Looking her age, not dripping with make-up, and hopefully on a road to recovery


My job, again, is centered around social media. I curate my experiences, my travels, and my life around the internet, and especially Instagram, my favorite platform.

As travel bloggers, we work with brands, sponsors, and affiliates, and it’s so important to disclose when you’re in a partnership, when something is sponsored, or just making sure you’re sharing your honest and genuine opinions the experience.

There’s nothing to feel guilty about getting paid to promote things when they align with your voice and brand. I was on a sponsored trip through Prague a couple months ago, and I wrote about how it was my least favorite city in Europe here. Does that take away from my relationship with my sponsor? No. And my audience could appreciate my honesty, because despite it being my job to write about the city, my first obligation is staying true to my voice and sharing my honest views in the most transparent ways possible.

I also leverage my social media platforms to connect with real-life people when I travel, which is why there’s no way in Hell I could give it up. No way in Heaven either!

Facebook Groups like “Girls Who Travel” and Instagram’s location-specific hashtags allow you to connect with people in real-time, and it’s incredible!

So while there’s a very real and raw underlying message in not being obsessed with seeking validation through virtual means, there’s also a dangerous extremism that flaws the message. Have balance, find your inner happiness, and use social media in moderation to have the best of both worlds. If you want to quit your social media, see you next week because I’m sure that’s as long as you’ll last, that’s what she said, hehe, then good for you for trying! 🙂

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below!

  • Lauren Haas

    Nice, balanced view. One of my friends summed it up so succintly I’ll just quote her and not try to make my own words: ” I think there’s some thought process ( both sincere and manipulative); I also think she probably has some…mood issues ( to be kind); and as a young person who’s not quite totally conscious she’s making herself vulnerable to public ridicule and mistakes.”

    • Lauren Haas

      I’ll add this: to imply that social media is shallow and false because you’ve used it to be shallow and false is like blaming a pencil if you write something you don’t like.

      Not faulting her. She’s a kid, it’s normal for her assume everyone’s experience of life is the same as hers. And I hope her actions are helpful to kids who were heading down that path, because it does sound miserable.

  • Ah, I remember being 19. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING was a drama. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through your teens in such a public arena now, but I’m sure glad I just missed it. Being that age is a confusing and emotional time at best, and having it splashed across the internet certainly won’t be helping matters.

    To me it seems as though the issues run deeper than just social media, and perhaps this is the break she needs to get her head together. Being in the public eye is stressful and sometimes a little scary, so I wish her the best of luck with whatever makes her happy.

    On being a travel blogger, I don’t see what I do as ‘fake’. My job is to educate and inspire others to see the world, and I think that’s a pretty awesome job TBH. Yes I do spend a lot of time making sure my content is good but that’s my decision. And so what if I occasionally partner up with a brand I believe in to promote them to my audience? Everyone’s gotta eat, and as long as you’re up front about it then I don’t see a problem.

    Thanks for writing about this topic, I’ve seen it everywhere recently and I think it’s great for her to have a break and get some distance but as always, one rule doesn’t apply to everyone. It’s all about balance.

  • I watched her video several times. The points I took away was that: 1. Social media is not real life 2. It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game. — As someone who’s been marketing online for the past 15 years, I have seen A LOT of changes in those years. Today, companies and brands have taken what they learned from television advertising and use that now online. I get it, I really do, that’s where the eyeballs are now, so that’s where the dollars go. At the same time, I totally agree with her points that I took from it. Social media is not where real life happens. Real life happens out there with real face to face experiences and people interacting with each other. Sure, you can meet people and make connections online, but it’s not the same unless you take those connections offline and create human interaction with real handshakes and real hugs. And, it’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game when you see the illusion of the perfect life. Nobody really knows what’s happening on the other side of other people’s keyboards. I don’t think she has mood issues. I think she just said, ‘enough is enough’ and got very emotional about it… very transparent, which is probably the most real she’s felt in a long time.

  • For better or for worse, Essena definitely opened up a can of worms with her videos and stand against social media. I think what she is saying isn’t revolutionary by any means–we all know that social media is a perfectly constructed version of reality but that doesn’t stop us from using it. When I first heard this story I thought: “This girl is cool, I like how she’s taking a stand and ripping the veil off her perfect photos” but then today’s news that she is asking the public for money is really shameless. Think about it. She took a stand against social media just to end up using social media to now ask for money because she’s no longer making money off social media.

    On a side note, those brands and companies paid her good money for those sponsored posts so I do wonder how they are reacting to blatant breach in contract now that she is going back and essentially saying everything is fake and bringing them negative publicity.

    I am a travel blogger and professional journalist and social media is a necessary evil I guess. I definitely struggle with that balance between capturing a moment and living it. My stand against social media is every month i will be sharing the REAL story behind some of my photos. All are welcome to contribute!


  • JustGoPlaces

    As a mother of a tween, this scares the living daylights out of me. Having ‘likes’ to prove your self-worth to the real world, how can I teach my daughter that her self worth comes from being her own wonderful self? Likes prove nothing. I’m a travel blogger as well and I know social media is a game. Like a lot of life. My little girl doesn’t have that sort of life experience and can easily get sucked into the likes game.

  • Cafeconleche

    The internet:

    It can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy! lol…

  • Crayven

    First world problems.
    “Oh i am so rich and i should enjoy my real life more than the virutal one”

    Reality check you brat, most people’s REAL life SUCKS so they take reffuge in the virtual.

  • I agree with almost everything you said here. I think she was so strong to admit that all the fake happiness she was putting on display was wrecking havoc on her mental health but I think it’s easy to make someone or something (here: all social media) the bad guy. I think the important thing to remember is that social media is usually one-sided. You will see the job promotions and trips or maybe even a meet-up with someone you admire, but never do you see updates on “late on paying the rent” or job searches. I think that social media is a great tool to inspire people but it isn’t a road map to how to live your life.

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