By now, we all know that the photos people post on social media are rarely a reflection of their real lives. But when one Edmonton-based social media star switched out her fitspo (or fitness inspiration) posts for make-up-free selfies and body-positive messages in an effort to be “real,” she lost 63,000 followers.
Sophie Gray, the 23-year-old behind the Instagram page WayOfGray, never intended on being a fitspo influencer. But at the height of her reign as a fitness expert, when shots of her chiselled abs and workout videos proliferated her page, she had 430,000 followers.
Once she switched gears, and started to write body positive posts and put up pictures of her (only slightly) less toned body, she says her followers plummeted.
“People don’t want to see something real or be confronted with reality on social media,” she tells Global News. “But I knew I was fuelling a distraction from life and from what is real.”
Her foray into the world of fitness influencing wasn’t premeditated. Gray says she started her Instagram page in 2013 when she was modelling and intended to use it as a portfolio. But when followers started to ask her what she did and ate to stay fit, she took some personal training and nutrition courses, and branded herself as a fitness expert.
It was a space where the self-professed “uncool kid at school” felt comfortable and accepted. But a fateful trip from New York to Toronto in June 2016 showed her that her Instagram life was only a facade.
“I had been travelling a lot for work, and although I didn’t have a problem with travel, I didn’t always want to be on-the-go. I was on a flight from New York to Toronto when I had a panic attack,” she said. “It was an accumulation of four years of rejecting who I was and what I care about, and my body just said, ‘no, you can’t pretend anymore.’ I ended up having to drive to Edmonton from Toronto because I couldn’t get back on a plane.”
It was at that point that Gray shifted her mission from fitspo to body positivity. Now she posts “real” pictures of herself with body-positive messages that are meant to help people be comfortable with themselves. She has re-branded herself as a coach and an all-around cheerleader for women, and offers coaching and programs to help people accept and connect with themselves.
Her posts are littered with uplifting missives like, “I want you to love yourself,” and she encourages women to pass these positive messages on to one another.
She’s quick to point out, however, that her new mantra is in no way meant to convey that healthy living and fitness aren’t important.
“My mission is: ‘I want you to accept the fit out of yourself,'” she said. “I’m not advocating that people eat bad food and sit around. I still eat properly and workout; I just do it from a place of acceptance now.”
As for her lost followers, Gray says she understands why they don’t follow her anymore but she hopes that they’re focusing on people who are sending the right message.
WATCH BELOW: Sophie Gray had more than 400,000 followers on Instagram alone as a fitness influencer online – but when she changed gears to promote body positive messages, she lost many of them. Sarah Kraus reports.