Here we are a week later, in the wake of Essena O’Neill’s — Australian “Instagram celebrity” — bold and viral departure from the world of social media. Some of us showed fervent support for O’Neill in the form of tweets and retweets in the days following her grand exit. Others rode the “stick it to the man” wave for a few days before reverting back to posting photos of the ~oh so trendy~ latte art our cute, hipster barista created this morning.
I myself am writing this article while simultaneously editing a photo of the Patrick Beach yoga class I attended this evening in Chelsea. Sue me. (Umm hello, Beyoncé filmed the “Love On Top” music video in the same studio class was held).
If you’re tired of the incessant articles discussing what exactly O’Neill’s defiance means for beauty in an age where lives are nipped, tucked, and blasted through the phone screens of self absorbed, insecure millennials, then stop reading here. But even now, a week later, I find myself having discussed this topic around my kitchen table with roommates, in my office with coworkers, and even with friends tonight walking to the train after yoga.
I’ve heard both the supporting and opposing sides to not only O’Neill’s move, but to the topic of social media’s impact on beauty, so to you, say the following:
I am the first to give long-winded monologues on social media’s part in the demise of our generation’s grip on self-esteem, self-awareness, and frankly…intelligence. I still yell at my 17-year-old brother every time he finds it vital that his iPhone has its own seat at the family dinner. Things like “Finstagrams” and apps that allow you to edit photos to achieve the “skinny arm pose” literally make me want to say “Adios world, it’s been fun.” Yes, I believe social media sites like Instagram and Tumblr act as impetuses for larger problems such as deceit and the spreading of FOMO; and yes, on some level, O’Neill was correct in stating, “Social Media is Not Real Life” — but it wasn’t until my friend Christina, during a discussion about O’Neill, asked, “But what’s wrong with having something to aspire to?” did I start to think of all the facets to this topic.
Over the years we’ve been fed the proverbial bullshit that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but what if this bullshit isn’t bullshit after all? What if we take this proverb as truth and apply it to the way we approach social media? If we take this as truth, then we’re forced to redefine, or admit to ourselves who the beholder really is. If the answer is our Instagram followers, then all my qualms listed above hold true and we’re all screwed, but if the answer is ourselves, then maybe we can rid social media of its inauthenticity and begin the process towards progress.
I have a track record of posting four Instagram photos in one day. Often I’d worry that I was annoying my followers. One day, however, my younger sister scolded me (ok, that’s hyperbolic) and said, “Rafaela…your Instagram is yours, it’s for you, so post whatever the f*** you want,” to which I responded, “You’re right. F*** everyone else. If I like it, I’ll post it.”
I became the beholder. I, and I alone, was in charge of creating my definition of beauty, for myself.
The same goes for how we choose to behold other’s’ presences on social media. O’Neill wasn’t incorrect in revealing that she never exercised prior to the flawless photo of her in workout clothes, or in mocking the photo of herself in a bikini captioned with a Ghandi quote. But Christina wasn’t wrong either in admitting that we all need a little something to aspire to sometimes — whether that’s a book, a political figure, a picture of girl doing a headstand on a beach in Thailand, or even latte art. Escaping reality for a moment can inspire us to make our realities what we want them to be.
Caring about how others perceive us and our beauty is a tale as old as time.
Instagram or no Instagram, men and women have always wished to be accepted as beautiful by society. And this won’t change, regardless of the volume by which we’re forced to ingest photos of avocado toast. The hard part isn’t being beautiful (yes, I’m the super bubbly, positive girl that believes we’re all beautiful and need to show it!), but rather the defining of how we behold beauty, and who we allow to behold our beauty.
If we acknowledge and accept these “Instagram celebrities” as merely things to aspire to and not realities held as absolute truths, then we’re already more than halfway there. But more importantly, if we begin to view ourselves as the only beholders of beauty that matter, then, and only then, will we be able to make true progress in accepting who we are, and allowing all of our followers to accept our true selves too.
In closing — Yes, this article is basically an admission of my love for Justin Bieber’s new song “Love Yourself”. JUDGE ME BECAUSE I AM MY OWN BEHOLDER.