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Thoughts on Essa O'Neill's Message About Social Media

Thoughts on Essena O’Neill’s Message About Social Media

While I typically publish blog posts on Wednesdays, I was inspired to reflect on my experience as a blogger after watching Essena O’Neill’s video, The Truth. If you haven’t watched the video or visited Essena’s Instagram, now titled Social Media is Not Real Life, I’ve included it below. In short, Essena is a social media influencer with over 500,000 followers who came to the realization that the life she shared on Instagram and YouTube was fake. Although she had a large social media following, she felt unfulfilled living a manufactured life. Essena’s message made me pause and examine how and why I use social media as a fitness blogger. This post isn’t meant to defend my choices. Instead, it’s meant to continue the conversation and to be transparent about my experience as a blogger. I’ll be speaking to a few of the quotes from her video.

NOTE: Essena’s YouTube and Instagram profiles seem to have been deleted on November 4.

Brand Partnerships
“If you don’t think [social media] is a business, you’re diluting yourself.” – EO

While I work a 9am-6pm job, I’m also occasionally paid as a fitness influencer. I’m often asked if it’s my long-term goal to become a full-time blogger. I have a lot of respect for influencers who have found a way to make a living from creating digital content, but I don’t plan to become one of them for some of the reasons that Essena shares in her video. It can be unstable. It can be scary to not have an end goal. Over two years ago, I started blogging as a hobby out of my love for fitness. I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to work with brands the way that I do today. I make nowhere near as much from blogging as I do from my full-time job. However, my career has been positively impacted by the skills I’ve gained from blogging. I feel incredibly fortunate to have partnered with brands that I admire to feature activewear, attend events, and travel for races. The extra cash is nice when you live in an expensive city, but the money isn’t what motivates me to keep blogging. More on that later in the post. First, know that I don’t accept sponsorships from brands that I wouldn’t otherwise share with you. I’d rather turn down a check than promote a product I don’t believe in.

Blog Photo Shoots
“Everything I did was for views, for likes, for followers. I did shoots…to get photos for Instagram.” – EO

By now, you’ve probably realized that some of my Instagram and blog photos were taken by Lydia Hudgens and Nick Urteaga. I think you’re all savvy enough to realize that photos like this one weren’t taken in the moment. While the caption might relate to an activity I did that day, the photo may have been taken days or even months before. I don’t work with photographers to make my followers think my life is perfectly edited. I work with photographers because I’m sometimes paid to feature activewear and want to show the product in the most professional way that I can. It’s also tough to take photos of yourself. However, it’s important to me that my body never be edited in my photos. Lydia and Nick might edit the exposure or saturation, but they don’t Photoshop my shape.

I will admit to choosing photos that I think are most flattering. After a blog shoot, which happens about twice per month, I get to choose my favorite shots from the bunch to be edited. I skip over shots that include an unflattering pose. Sometimes I choose a shot that includes beautiful scenery and lighting but don’t end up posting it because I decide the pose is unflattering. See the photo below. This might make me sound crazy, as I know I have a petite body type, but I didn’t post this shot because I don’t like the way my stomach looks. I’m a woman leaning forward in a fitted top. Of course my stomach has to fold for that to be possible. Note to self: Just because I’m a fitness blogger doesn’t mean I have to avoid sharing photos that could be considered unflattering. In fact, others may not have noticed the folds in my stomach at all.

Thoughts on Essena O'Neill's Message About Social Media

Taking It Offline
“Turn off your phone. Go somewhere. Do something that you love, and then talk to the people that are also doing that…You don’t need to rely on social media to meet people.” – EO

I wanted to be transparent about my brand partnerships and photo shoots above, but this is the point that really got me thinking. Essena talks about living a manufactured life for social recognition, rather than doing things that she truly loved. While I understand where she’s coming from, I don’t think it’s always about one or the other. Social media content might be posted for recognition, but I don’t think that’s always its sole purpose. I also don’t think posting content has to mean that you aren’t doing things you truly love. I do put more effort than the average person into shooting photos, writing captions, and brainstorming ideas for my social media posts, but I also know that the intent behind sharing my content is genuine.

I love to blog because I love to connect with people who share similar interests and lifestyles. Being a fitness blogger has made me a healthier, more confident, and more spontaneous version of myself. When I started blogging, I had never run more than three consecutive miles. In two weeks, I will have completed four half marathons in four months. I also ran a freaking marathon in January. Sharing my running journey on social media has allowed me to connect with some of my closest friends and biggest fitness inspirations. It gives me an outlet to share my struggles and my victories. It connected me with people from around the world who I’ve since met in real life at races, as well as people who have become my weekly training buddies.

In short, I’m so grateful that social media inspired me to become a runner. But if the ability to share my athletic accomplishments to social media didn’t exist, I would still be out there logging miles. I would still be working to lift heavier weights. I would still be training for races to pin on a bib, meet at a starting line, and accomplish giant athletic goals with other people. Ultimately, it’s not about the number of medals or the number of likes for me. It’s not about how fast or slow you run a mile. It’s about using social media as a tool to connect with other people who are working toward a similar goal. It’s about sharing information and encouragement with one another. Running is the very thing that connects us in the digital world but also gives us a reason to disconnect for awhile.

Although I value Essena’s point of view and can absolutely see how it applies to many communities within the social media world, I think there are exceptions. The running community is not clean from this sort of behavior, but I see so much good in it. This post doesn’t feel complete, as I have many more thoughts on this topic, but I hope to have given you more insight into my habits as a blogger. It’s my hope that your social media community, no matter the shared interest, inspires you to go try new things offline and realize that your true story is worth sharing.

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  • Reply Ellie

    Thank you so much for this post. I read the Cosmo article about Essena yesterday, and found it so interesting. As a blogger of course I know that 100% of things I see are not real or in the moment – I do it myself! I think the problems come when we start to do things ONLY for our instagram or our blog. I know I’ve been guilty of this before (getting Starbucks instead of a cheaper coffee brand because I think it looks better on my instagram, for example, which is embarrassing but true) but I don’t think it’s healthy to change your whole life for likes. I’m not sure where I was trying to do with that, but it’s just some thoughts your post sparked for me!

    November 3, 2015 at 8:34 am
  • Reply Sam Emrich

    Loved reading this POV. I feel many similar sentiments in terms of my yoga journey. If it weren’t for education, encouragement and community via social media, I question whether I would have stepped on a mat by today. Or tried poses by myself at the gym for the first time. Though I do think it can promote a level of perfectionism, I agree with you — there is still so much good in the online fitness community. Kudos!

    November 3, 2015 at 10:05 am
  • Reply Meaghan - The Fit Crasher

    “It’s about using social media as a tool to connect with other people who are working toward a similar goal. It’s about sharing information and encouragement with one another. Running is the very thing that connects us in the digital world but also gives us a reason to disconnect for awhile.”

    YES. All of this. Thank you for sharing your perspective, friend. Beautiful words that ring oh so true. xo

    November 3, 2015 at 10:09 am
  • Reply Elana

    I love this post Evann!

    November 3, 2015 at 10:20 am
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