photo: Corbis

When Essena O'Neill went on a tirade about how Instagram wasn't real, people were left dumbfounded. They wondered how a young woman with hundreds of thousands of followers known for fashionable posts could tell her devoted fans that everything she had ever shared was "contrived perfection." But who actually thinks that the photos on Instagram are actually taken spontaneously? Apparently, it's hard to face the obvious fact that what you see on Instagram isn't real.  

Kylie Jenner has one of the most popular Instagram accounts in the world with almost 50 million followers. Any product she endorses instantly sells out, and yet she has owned up to the fact that the persona that we see day in and day out isn't her authentic self.  Jenner told Interview magazine:

"I’m not myself on Snapchat or Instagram. People want to see my cars and my purses. People love fashion. But that’s so not me."

Jenner said that when she turns 30 she wants to go off the grid and live on a farm in Malibu. Is the reality star turned social media mogul craving a simpler time in which our every waking moment wasn't documented?

Instagram use has doubled since 2012, so the increased depression, jealousy, and envy that was once linked to Facebook has now shifted to the image-heavy social media platform. "Instagram distills the most crazy-making aspects of the Facebook experience," Slate reports. It's true, Instagram amplifies all of the parts of Facebook that cause serious FOMO; beautiful photos of people having way more fun, leading way more glamorous lives, and traveling to more exotic locales than we could ever dream of.

Instagram Demographics

“You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from a status update,” Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin, co-author of the study on Facebook and envy, told Slate. “A photo can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority. You don’t envy a news story.”

A study showed that the "engagement on Instagram far outperforms Facebook and Twitter," and there are more interactions on Instagram than any other social media platform. When you calculate all of that, it makes sense that models like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid get paid thousands of dollars for simply posting images on their accounts. "Instagram girls" like O'Neill also make lots of cash on Instagram, so why would she give that up? She understood what we already knew — people get paid to endorse products on Instagram — but it went deeper for her than most of us were able to understand until she told us in her own words.

O'Neill spent her days before she gave up Instagram refining poses, finding perfect lighting and editing her images until they looked "perfect." Before shutting down her account, she changed hundreds of captions to expose the hard work behind all of the "effortless" photos and revealed that if a company was tagged in an image, 99 percent of the time she was being paid for the post. She wanted to disclose the truth behind each picture, stating:

"See how relatable my captions were — stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention."

Though some people close to O'Neill claim that the Australian's Instagram rant was a hoax in order to gain more attention, her argument against Instagram and social media makes sense. She told her followers, via email, that she plans to write a book on "how to be social media famous" while trying to find a job at a local bar. She also discussed the hardships of the aftermath from releasing that video, stating that she was "throwing away such a big part" of her life. "The next time I speak, the next time you hear from me, I'll be standing stronger than I could ever have stood before. So thank you," O'Neill wrote.

The most interesting aspect of perusing images on Instagram is that we all see something different. Even as Kylie poses beautifully in each shot, she is exposing her insecurities. She recently said that she usually poses with her hands over lips because she's always been insecure about them. Even though she has admitted to lip fillers, covering up is a habit that she can't break. 

Iskra Lawrence, a 24-year-old model, told ELLE.com that the fake perception that women see on Instagram is more hurtful than viewing a magazine. "There are apps out there which can change everything: your eye color, the size of your eyes, slim your cheeks," Lawrence said. "It is so much scarier than magazines. At least most people realize that magazines and campaigns have been airbrushed.

"But young girls are looking at selfies on Instagram and they're not realizing that some people are using apps to totally change what they look like."

A photo posted by STINA SANDERS (@stinasanders) on

The sad reality is that, perhaps, we don't want to see the truth. There's a reason why we share what we do, and why people like those images. Model Stina Sanders was adored on Instagram when she shared sexy pictures from her photo shoots, but when she got real and shared photos of her boring beauty routines, her fans turned on her — quickly. Sanders was inspired by O'Neill and wanted to share her actual reality, which included bleaching hair on her face and a therapy session, and subsequently lost thousands of followers.

"I wanted to see what would actually happen if I stopped posting glamorous photos, and shared stuff that you wouldn't normally even share with your friends, stuff that is taboo, stuff that was quite crude, all that kind of stuff," Sanders told People. "Personally I think Instagram is so fake — the amount of filters, the airbrushing — so I thought it would be interesting."

At the end of the day, it seems like Instagram celebs like Kylie are doing exactly what they need to do to keep business going. Giving people exactly what they want: A filtered shot of life.