An Open Letter to Essena O'Neill
Dear Essena O’Neill,
Thank you for being brave in saying that “enough is enough”. Or, in the case of popularity and materialism, “enough is never enough”. Thank you for the courage it took for you to be open to realising the truth about social media in the first place, and for being honest about the feeling of emptiness that “having it all” left you with.
As someone who has studied communications and knows and appreciates the power social media can have in inspiring movements and change across the globe (#bringbackourgirls, #prayfornepal are just a couple of examples), I have often worried about the way young people, particularly young girls, seem to measure their worth by the amounts of likes, followers and reposts they attain through social media. I have often pondered what raising girls in this time of history would be like, and do not look forward to the challenge of assuring my future-daughters of their worth even if they do not look like the “perfect” girl should or do not wear what all the other girls are wearing because their mother “wont let them out of the house like that” (sorry in advance, future-daughters).
I worry for the young girls who I meet who carefully select pictures of the highs of their lives and carelessly compare theirs with the other girls in their feed. I worry for how easy everyone’s life seems to be through what is posted on their instagram and although we are so “connected” now, more and more of our Aussie youth are suffering in silence, contributing to Australia’s high rate of suicide and depression among adolescents, the highest in the world.
At first, Essena, I was surprised by how popular your story was becoming. I don’t mean this to sound rude. “The social media model who quits social media” is at best, brave. But because of the way social media is shaping young minds in this age of Media 2.0 (a profound theory about the fact that we now live our lives within the media, not alongside it or through it. Check out Mark Deuze for more), this story is shaking some people’s very embedded belief systems and challenging the way teen’s view themselves and their world. I just hope it sticks in people’s minds after the “going viral” trend calms down.
And now this brings me to you, Essena. You are championing this cause with such honesty and raw vulnerability. You have come such a long way considering your life and media have been so inextricably linked for so long: since you were 12 until now, at 18. There is such a bright future ahead for you but I worry that you do not know it.
Essena, you said in your vlog that you don’t know who you are. That you could have done so much more with your life. That you were lied to. That you are scared for what the future holds for you. But you also said you know that your worth isn’t determined by numbers and that you are made for more. It seems like the process of healing is only just beginning. Becoming conscious of the lies we have been fed is just the beginning of the process of enlightenment, of integration, of holiness, however you want to put it. It’s not enough to just attain self-knowledge, but we need to know what to do with it. I suppose this letter is one that hopes to point you in the direction of what can bring you lasting healing and peace.
So here goes.
I don’t know your full story, Essena, I don’t know what your upbringing was like, what other hurts you carry or what you aspire to be. But I know Who does. I know Who is more proud of your bravery than anyone in the crowd of people now flocking to read your edited instagram posts is. I know Who desires to offer you a certainty in the future, a confidence in Who your dignity is attained from, and Who wants to offer you more than this “world of plenty” has done.
I want you to know that you are made for more. That the still voice inside you that cried out because you were selling yourself short is the still small voice inside every human heart demanding to be recognised. You had the humility to listen to that voice, and I want you to know that the knowledge that you are made for more was put there by God. God the Father.
Don’t click exit just yet.
Hear me out.
It’s God the Father who loved you first before you even knew He cared. Who pieced you together so carefully and thought you were beautiful and worthy of love when you were aspiring to be like the girls in the magazines. Whose heart breaks that you are so uncertain about what is to come and who wants to assure you that there is a future full of hope for you waiting to be lived.
I know that you are aware that this path of self-discovery and becoming authentic is a painful one. You come face to face with your imperfections, your self doubt and the wounding of your past experiences, but I know that there is a God who has suffered with us in our frail humanness and who just wants to be with us. And that our frailness isn’t made beautiful once He is finished helping us and healing us back into life, but that it is already beautiful because we are loved in our frailty. Not despite our frailty, but with our frailty. And that’s a really important thing to distinguish.
As I sign off, my final hope for you Essena is that you do not buy into the fallacy of modern religions that you need to get to a certain level of wisdom or enlightenment to be loved or close to the divine. My God is a God who came to us before we even asked Him to. And He is madly in love with all of us.
If you want to talk, contact me anytime.
PS – this letter can be read by other people whose name’s are not Essena O’Neill. Just incase you were wondering.