Personal trainer Sophie Gray amassed a half million Instagram followers with her jaw-dropping bikini shots, a**-kicking workout videos, and green smoothie demos. But everything changed the day she decided to ditch her sexy image and get real.
Since swapping ab shots for makeup-free selfies and preaching self-acceptance instead of workout advice, Gray has lost 63,000 Instagram followers, going from 430,000 to 367,000. “This is not a coincidence but rather a result of me changing my message,” the 22-year-old from Edmonton, Canada, tells Yahoo Beauty.
As a teen, Gray experienced a lack of self-acceptance, which led to a period of disordered eating. She became a nutritionist and personal trainer, which helped her create healthier habits — and social media helped her share images of what looked like a #goals life. Gray’s Instagram account contained flawless shots of her tight abs, workout videos in nature, and mouth-watering photos of healthy meals.
However, maintaining her social media image was exhausting. “I was trying to deny who I was,” Gray tells Yahoo Beauty. “I even had two sets of workout clothes — colourful sports bras for my demo videos and a very old sports bra, which I wore with a ratty Nike T-shirt for exercising in private. Those cute sports bras aren’t supportive!”
One year ago, Gray had a revelation, inspired in part by the volume of messages she received from women who felt “gross” and “unworthy” because they couldn’t attain a so-called perfect body.
“I began questioning why I felt the need to post those types of photos,” Gray told Yahoo Beauty in July. “How could I preach self-acceptance and post these images? Why is my self-worth attached to a body type? I don’t even like working out! Once I realised those photos were a way to avoid who I really am, I made a vow to stop posting them.”
Gray has archived her sexy bikini shots. Instead, she offers meditation and journalism workshops in place of workout videos, and she turns down marketing offers from “skinny companies” that promote detox teas. She also shares videos exploring her anxiety issues and photos of her “greasy” hair and “bad” skin.
So committed to her path of authenticity, Gray even began calling out fellow fitness buffs for spreading what she felt was a false message. In July, when she came across a reshared Instagram photo of herself wearing a sports bra with the caption, “Nothing tastes as good as being fit feels,” Gray wrote in the comments section of the post: “Actually from experience and seeing as I’m the person in this photo, I know that pizza and cookies taste way better.” Then she shared the photo on her Facebook page but scribbled out her six-pack, to keep the focus on her message.
Gray chalks up her dwindling audience to the fact she no longer offers a quick but false fix for happiness. “So many people believe, ‘If I do this workout, I’ll lose weight and feel happy’ but something external cannot fix an internal issue,” she says. “Happiness is something you have to connect to within.”
According to Gray, her old persona was a distraction. While she offered a tangible way for people to achieve their goals, it was without having to explore the larger issues that were causing them pain. As proof, she points to letters she now receives from women grateful for her evolution and who seek advice on mental health.
“I don’t care how many followers I have,” says Gray. “My audience may be smaller, but I’m attracting the right people.”
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