I don’t often drop everything to comment on newsy topics, but when it involves body image and identity, sometimes I can’t help myself.
You may have seen that Essena O’Neill, a teen social media celebrity with half a million Instagram followers, has quit social media. I didn’t know who Essena O’Neill was until yesterday, but I’m not very cool on social media, and I’m also not a teen. So I looked her up.
I read about her. Watched this video, and then read her edited captions on Instagram, which I totally loved. Her message is not just one for teen girls. It’s for me, someone ten years older than she is, and it’s for anyone who uses social media on a regular basis. Now with her new site LetsBeGameChangers.com, she is hoping to spread–what I’ve narrowed down to–three messages:
1. Social media is a ruse. It’s not real life, so don’t aspire to be social media famous, like her.
2. Social media likes and follows do not determine whether or not you are a worthy person.
3. Your physical appearance does not determine whether or not you are a worthy person
At one point in the YouTube video, she shares a story from when she was twelve years old. She used to stalk beautiful models and celebrities on social media, wanting to look like them and be like them. She would look at herself in the mirror and wonder if she was skinny like they were or pretty like they were. One day, she looked up the centimeters of different models’ waists and thighs. Then she measured her own waist and thighs to see how hers measured up.
That’s the part that got me. I know what that deep, relentless, self scrutiny feels like. I am ten years older than Essena, and I still know what that feels like.
She goes on to say, “I didn’t know myself without social media. I didn’t know myself without my appearance.”
I didn’t know myself, she said.
Essena’s message is powerful and I think it will make a difference, but that phrase right there is what she’s getting at, even if she doesn’t know that’s what she’s getting at. She didn’t know herself, but she wants to know herself, apart from the posed and strategic posts on social media. She hopes to accomplish this by getting off social media for good and spreading positive and truthful messages to others who are caught up in it.
I think when we say we want to know ourselves better, what we mean is we want to be known. For how we can be us and not know us? How can I be me and not know me? There must be something out there that knows us better than we know ourselves, and that, that is what we want.
Essena, in her own way, is expressing this universally human craving. To be known and then for our known selves to be loved.
This one thing we all want, what Essena wants, what I want, what every girl or guy on Instagram who is refreshing their feed compulsively to count their likes wants, is what we already have.
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
A lot of people quote that first part, and but I like the parts after. “When I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.”
We were known before we knew ourselves. We were known before our own mothers knew us. We were known. You were known. You are known. Nothing has changed that. This truth, it holds true.
We cannot be more known than to be known by our creator, and He knows us. Like, really as much as you can possibly know someone and more than we could possibly ever understand, he knows us. Our substance being yet unformed. Our days fashioned as yet there were none of them.
Our backwards quest for acceptance through the posting of dishonest, improved and staged images of ourselves can only be turned around by believing that we are unconditionally accepted by our creator. This, I am convinced, is the only weapon we have to fight this war on self hatred, worthiness, and the feeling of not being enough. A war that’s always existed and is greatly magnified by the social platforms that allow us to see what everybody else is doing, who they are doing it with, and what they look like while they are doing it.
My hope for Essena, for girls and for all of us is that in our search for self, we come to end of ourselves and to the beginning of something much greater, a love that was always there, a love that knows us through and through and loves us still.