Social media is an important tool: it’s an important tool for connecting you to distant family and long-lost friends; it’s an important tool for sharing memories, for collecting news, and for keeping your closest friends up to date.  Yet, though it's sometimes hard to believe, social media is not an important tool for determining your happiness.  I, like many other women of my generation, am guilty of spending copious amounts of time editing my photos, asking friends ‘which filter do you like better?’ and trying to create the perfect caption that is equal parts cute and funny.  

I follow models and celebrities, often feeling secretly envious of the insanely toned bikini-clad bodies that appear in their posts.  And I, like many others, sometimes see the comments on these photos, such as ‘perfection’ or ‘#goals,’ as a reminder of the things I am not.  It's important to remember that when you take a step back, all of this is trivial, and we could change this false self-perception.  Social media could be an incredible tool for spreading positivity, but we have to empower each other to see it as such.

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Essena O’Neill, a former Instagram model with a worldwide fan base, has started a new website, www.letsbegamechangers.com to show just that.  On her website, she posts videos describing her philosophy on social media and how it can negatively impact modern girls’ body image.  Additionally, aside from deleting a large amount of her Instagram posts, she has edited many of her old captions to reveal what it was really like to get the shot just right.  One caption of a photo showing off her exquisite figure reads ‘this is not real’, confessing that she would not eat for the whole day in preparation for a bikini photo shoot.  On another, she discusses how she would take a picture over 100 times just to find the right angle.  

She documents moments of feeling like she was worth nothing outside of her Instagram image, saying that she was often unhappy with the person she had become since accepting pay for her photos.  Many who have seen her website have celebrated her and admired her courage, calling her a champion of women and of self-esteem.  But others have called her a liar, saying she's using this move as yet another tactic of self-promotion and calling attention to herself through whatever means necessary.

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Social media could be an incredible tool for spreading positivity, but we have to empower each other to see it as such.

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Regardless of her motives, Essena is shedding light on an important truth.  Social media is a great tool, but that’s all it is.  It can be used very strategically, to make staged photos appear real when they're not, like a skinny beach bod or a happy smiling face.  But it should never make girls feel disheartened, or determine their self-worth, nor consume as much of our time and energy as it does.  Yet, as Essena points out, that's often not the case.  That’s where a change needs to occur.  As women, it's important for us to remember that our posts should inspire positivity for ourselves, as well as for others.  We should be mindful of the captions we create and what they connote.  We should understand the impact of the comments we make on other’s photos and on our own.  And we should stop cultivating a culture that cares so much about these little details.  

In a sense, Essena’s posts are a call to action for our entire generation.  She's asking us to change the way we view what others post, to change the discourse surrounding models and celebrities, to change our perceptions of others, and ourselves.  She's asking us to step outside the narrow lens of Instagram, to be conscious of the limits of our viewpoints, to be open-minded and optimistic.  She's paving the way for women to use social media as an important tool for empowerment.  And for that, I applaud her. 

 

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