Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fame: Fleeting, Fake and In Your Face

Before today, had you ever heard of Essena O'Neill?

Me neither.

Well, apparently we're a little behind the times. 

Essena, a 19-year old Australian model and social media personality, has hundreds of thousands of followers on the likes of YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. (She also seems to have a number of Facebook pages, but since the 'book of face' is quickly becoming more of a midlife community, her numbers there aren't quite as staggering.)

For the past few years, Essena has spent countless hours posing and posting. Blonde with a preternaturally tiny waist, she's perfected the swimsuit selfie. You know, that pose that says "Just puttin' myself out there because I'm so hot. So hot. You know I'm so hot. But yo, if you don't know, well now you know."

Her online popularity has led to a modeling contract with a major ("the biggest") agency down under, as well as advertising revenue and product endorsements.

By her own account, she is a product of — and addicted to — social media. When she was 12, she began posting and thought she was worthless because she had no likes or followers. For years, she perfected her pretty pouts, sometimes shooting an image 100 times before it was deemed attractive enough to get the reaction she was looking for. Now, at the wise old age of 18 (and after 3 years of pretty much living online), she knows better. "Validation from numbers? It means nothing," she insists.

Recently, Essena stunned the interwebcyberdigisphere by publicly resigning. She explained why she's not going to post anymore in a video (that she posted, of course). "I don't agree with social media as it currently is. It's so detrimental to human health and human abilities."

Wow. Profoundy.

To add cred to her cause, she made the video without makeup ("Gasp!"), a fancy blow-out ("Oh my!") or even a bikini ("Say it ain't so!"). 

She's challenging her fans to swear off social media for a week. If they do, she promises they can have life-altering (she really uses that phrase) experiences just like she has. For example, she's spent her newfound offline time "Looking at trees." And, "Listening to people."

With due respect to Kafka, Essena is clearly going through a metamorphosis. And, she's going to share it with us. In fact, she'll be posting about her life post-posting 3 times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. ("Australia-time.") She'll talk about books she's reading, what she's doing, "game-changing projects and plans." Her focus won't be on how she looks but how she feels "insiiiiiiide." She caresses the word with a sense of wonder, as though she were the first to coin the concept.

So, Essena has launched a new "Game Changers" blog where she is — through the use of social media — encouraging people to turn away from social media. "Let's talk about real stuff!" After a couple of days of jubilant observations and tearful gratitude, she realized that her new venture, as noble as it was, wouldn't pay her rent. So she posted a video asking for donations and added a "Support" tab to the site where you can demonstrate said support with a major credit card. This was picked up by the media and opened her to a veritable hailstorm of cynics and detractors. (The plea has since been taken down.) 

But, crowdsourcing aside, she insists that her new venture is "Not about likes; not about money."

In fact, she boasts in her initial video, "I almost took this off YouTube." 

But ya didn't. Did ya? 
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