Teaching My Daughter To Be Authentic

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Earlier this week Instagram ‘star’ Essena O’Neill quit Instagram in a flounce heard around the world.

I have to admit: I rolled my eyes more than once at the articles I read online after she ‘bravely’ came out to admit that many of her Instagram images were staged.

We live in a time now where a lot of – if not most of – our media consumption comes from Socially crafted platforms. I think it’s fair to say that I definitely didn’t like the way Instagram and Pinterest used to influence the way I felt about my own life; if I wasn’t living in a candy dream of bunting and stripy straws I’d feel inadequate. But I think as a society we’ve wised up to this now and we know that, just as in magazines, often what we see is a very rosy view of reality. Yes, Essena was a beautiful girl who seemed to be living a charmed and fun life, but do we honestly buy that it’s all real? Naaaah.

Teaching My Daughter To Be Authentic

However, I do have problems with some all-out lies I see over blogs and Instagram. There is one well-known blogger who shamelessly Photoshops her images, claiming to her young and impressionable audience that ridiculous ways of eating keep her skinny when really it’s the stretch and blur tools in Photoshop. I find that and non-disclosure of freebies and advertising dishonest (and illegal!).

But is there much wrong with us mere Instagram mortals wanting to put our best realistic face forward for the rest of the world to see?

I don’t mind admitting that I post many of my selfies from the car or in front of a window, purely because the lighting’s better and you can’t see my eye bags. If I snap an image in my house it’ll be in the tidy living space, not in front of the hellhole of toys that is the kids’ bedroom. But I can still look through my Instagram feed and think- yep, this is real life. It’s a bloody optimistic view of real life, but nothing about it is fake.

Teaching my daughter to be authentic

I think about this a lot in terms of raising my daughter. It’s up to me to shape and form how she perceives the world but more crucially how the world perceives her. I want her to know that it’s OK for her to want to present the best version of herself if she wants to – as long as this isn’t limited to the way she looks. I think it’s important that we are good people, inside our hearts, in how we treat others, in the work we do and yes – finally, if that’s what makes us happy, in the way we look. I’d lead by example in this way whether I wanted to or not: I like to wear lipstick and have a good hair day and not have a wobbly bottom and choose a lovely outfit. It makes me feel good about myself… but that’s OK because I also look after what I manifest from the inside, too.

Reviewing the situation with Essena O’Neill it seemed that she wasn’t making herself feel happy, and that’s where she was going wrong; portraying an unrealistic view to the outside world that effortless beauty led to happiness which led to her feeling more and more unhappy. I’m all for a little less beauty, a little more realism and therefore more happiness.

Teaching my daughter to be authentic

By leaving Social Media in the manner Essena did she has swapped one form of aspirational self-promotion for another, making sure she’s garnered as much attention as possible along the way (and then asking for monetary donations while she’s at it). I’m going back to the eyerolling now, but this really made me think: girl, you’re going to be as unhappy as you were before. She’s now abandoned all her Social platforms after claims she wasn’t authentic hit the news (as has Sociality Barbie: GUTTED), but how long before she’s back, I wonder?

The lessons I take away from this is re-enforcement for what I’ve been hoping to teach Elfie all along: just be authentic. Be your happy self. Be the good person you want to be, and happiness will follow.

In full honest disclosure: thank you to the lovely people at Monsoon for sending these dresses from their Heritage Collection for Elfie and I to wear (mine/Elfie’s). I was having a terrible hair day after I felt unhappy about my hair cut, Elfie was being a little monkey and didn’t want me to pick her up for a cuddle. I did however feel great about my cleavage. So thanks, Monsoon! 

18 Comments
  1. I watched the Essena video and agreed with a fair amount with what she said (although none of it was a surprise). But then, she dropped the clanger that she wanted donations, via social media, to help pay her rent. THE IRONY.

    1. I think that’s the bit that got me! yes – it’s important to be honest and truthful and do what makes you happy. But by then asking for money I felt like she totally undermined pretty much everything she’d said.

  2. It was all a bit dramatic for me, if she really truly felt like that then It would have probably come across as a slower change over time. But the drama was better publicity and as for asking for money I just thought – get a job love!
    We all choose the best photos of ourselves, that’s life, nothing new to be seen here! x

    1. I agree – it was all about the publicity. And on the best photos thing too… it’s just good sense to pick the ones where we look most attractive innit?! x

  3. The whole Essena debacle is all a bit too much for me…so many young girls are looking up to these uber famous social media stars and it’s such a scary world. Even I find myself looking up to others, particularly via Instagram and feel guilty about my own sloppiness and inability to not to be make ourselves look perfect. Even from a creative side I always wish I had the time and the brain space to make life be- and look- so lovely. But it’s not my real life and I’d hate for my daughter to ever feel this pressure to be something she’s not. On the other hand I think it’s good to celebrate yourself and your life on the good days, which is mostly why I take pictures on the days (or little moments) when everything is going OK, as they are achievements nowadays – the days I’ve got clean hair and the days we’ve made it out the house before it’s dark again ;) xx

    1. I sometimes look at parenting youtubers and think the same! But then I remember – it’s their JOB to put on a happy face full of make-up and film themselves ;)
      And I still celebrate the days we’ve made it out the house before dark too!

  4. I’m one of the Essena bum kissers ;) I think it was a brilliantly refreshing move. As a teacher of teenage girls I see the impact of social media fakery on mental health and self esteem first hand. It’s scary and enraging to watch it unfold. I can’t emphasise how important her message is to so many of the girls I know. Perhaps us oldies should know better (although the social expectation that we present aesthetically appealing bodies, lifestyles and relationships 99% of the time, is an insidious form of patriarchy that most women are hugely affected by, so IMO her message is important to us too) but Essena is 17, right? So young! And she’s speaking out to a demographic that don’t have the kind of life experience or voice that we do. Respect to that young woman!

    1. I was coming on here to comment with something similar – I think the big, big difference in this situation is the demographic that Essena is appealing to and influencing. Let’s be clear – Essena may have made this decision to step away (and the whole pay my rent thing, meh – but the girl is 17) but it’s much, much older people who are sponsoring and directing her to create this total faux image of her life and body…which then creates a huge amount of pressure on other girls of her age. It’s easy for me at the grand old age of 34 to shake my head and say how silly but I’m not 17, a young girl, and desperate to be accepted/approved by my peers. Completely agree that social media is far far more insiduous at that age and Essena’s decision to step out of that is an important one, no matter how she may have gone about it.

      Alice, I completely agree that you can be authentic and still present the best form of yourself. But there’s a line (somewhere) between wearing a nice dress/makeup and taking a selfie and being paid by adults much more adultier than you to manipulate and manage images in order to put pressure on other young women into thinking that their life and their body somehow isn’t quite up to scratch.

    2. I have to concur with you – yes, I think it was a great and brave move to put her hands up to her followers and say, you know what, this isn’t real! I think what rubbed me up the wrong way was how it was followed by a media storm (I’ve seen some speculate that Press Releases were sent out) and then the immediate ask for monetary support. However, I’m sure the whole thing has made young women step back and assess their own realities and you can’t take that away from her.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post. I feel sad for Essena and there’s probably a lot more to her unhappiness than she has shared. I love polished Instagram feeds, but I also love glossy mags, I take them for what they are and I know they’re simply edited highlights. Although I think it may have been tougher for the teenage me to separate the two… Have a fabulous weekend!

  6. I think this is a fantastic life lesson to teach children although I think most even at a young age can see a lot of what is “sold” to us as life really is anything but. I have to admit I also did some major eye rolling over Essena

    Laura x

  7. I agree with Kate and Steph and I think you’re being a little disingenuous! I like your blog but your whole career appears to be based on extracting value from social media. That’s fine and you always seem very honest both about money and your life. However, it then seems ridiculous to suggest that social media exerts no influence. What are people paying you for in that case? I also have taught lots of teenage girls and clearly both conventional and social has a great deal of influence on them and is not transparent. I think Instagram is aspirational even for older women who fully understand how it works no something is not real and being immune to the feelings it provokes are not the same thing.

  8. I love the honesty in your writing. I want this for my littles too, to know their self worth, be kind and be happy. Love begins from within and to never lose sight if that! Beautiful post as ever x

  9. I’ve had issues with Instagram and Pinterest for painting this unrealistic picture of the world for a long time. I don’t really ‘do’ Pinterest and I avoid IG accounts that make everything too beautiful and sanitised. There were definitely some positives to come out of the story – by letting impressionable young girls and women know that there’s more to life than a flat belly which you’ve starved yourself for.
    Being real and authentic is definitely the way forward, but there are always those who will choose the other way. And if that’s their choice, not something they feel pressure to do, that’s fine.

  10. Hey Alice, just popped over from Tots Good Reads where I featured too. My article is discussing the pretty accounts with pics taken on DSLRs rather than phones and uploaded strategically. This is something I do and one of the things I love about Instagram and the accounts I follow. However, I feel bad for Essena and completely agree with you that we need to teach our children it’s ok to be authentic. I use my Instagram purely as an extension of my blog and a means to get photography gigs! The shots are all real in the sense that they were taken by me, in the moment but I would only ever share the very best ones on there. If you checked out my husbands Instagram well that’s a whole other story, we’re talking me first thing in the morning no make up that sort of thing (the bugger!) but his is there purely for fun. Anyway, great article and a really interesting read. Amy x

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