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.
Have you been all levels of emotional lately? I cried in my shower this morning thinking about the ending of Wonder Women. I also cried uncontrollably for 15 minutes while hugging Rio because I know one day I won’t be able to do that. All of the emotions. Can you relate?!! If you have been going through something similar the past week or so, know you’re not alone. I won’t go all woo woo on you, but the moon plays a huge role in our emotional experience as women. It’s bizarre to me that I can have these crying fits, or deeper, more “I’m not moving from my couch for 2 days straight” experiences and in the moment think I’m so alone. But, when I connect with my girlfriends, I learn that they’re experiencing the same thing. This connection and ability to hear what they’re going through instantly makes me feel better. It doesn’t make me feel better because I’m stoked that they’re hurting. It makes me feel better because it shows me just how connected we all are, especially women. I’ll be completely honest… I have never had a great relationship with my female peers. My own insecurities left me feeling judged, insecure and shut down. It feels like as women we were trained to see each other as enemies, or competition. This couldn't be further from the truth. As of late I have been learning the absolutely necessity of finding people to connect with. I know it can take a long time to find girlfriends who lift you up, so I want to give a space for that right now. Is there something you’re going through that’s making you feel really alone? Or have you been crying uncontrollably about random things? I would love to hear your experience below. But, I'm making a rule.. if you’re sharing – connect with at least one of the other lovely ladies who have shared their experiences. Connect. Relate. Be vulnerable. This isn’t a place to vent or rant. It’s a thread to show up, be heard and connect. It's not about dwelling in these experiences. It's about allowing them to be heard and then instantly releasing them. Okay, go! Tell me what you're going through. Or, what you have been crying about recently. Share, and know it's a safe space to do so.
A post shared by Sophie Gray (@wayofgray) on Jun 9, 2017 at 11:40am PDT
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.”
This is what self care can look like. Self care isn't only reserved for those who have the privilege of attending a yoga retreat in the jungle. It's not only for those who regularly go for massages. You don't need to lock yourself away in a day spa. Self care isn't one single activity. It's simply making time for you. Today I took a long shower, ate this dairy free ice cream thingy and watched Fifty Shades of Grey. Some days I drive with the radio turned off and repeat positive affirmations. Other days I go for walks with my dogs – and sometimes I do go on tropical vacations or get massages. This photo clearly isn't Instagram Fabulous – but it is real. I want to remind you that you can make time for yourself on the regular – and you are deserving of it. So, go out there and take care of yourself. Go for a walk, take a long shower, sing in your car, read a book, cry, practice yoga, go to Costa Rica.. just do something that allows you to care for your incredible self!
A post shared by Sophie Gray (@wayofgray) on Apr 5, 2017 at 4:43pm PDT
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.
You no longer see pictures of my body this way on @Instagram for this reason. Having a six pack and thigh gap doesn't make you happy. Pizza and cookies are fucking delicious. And I'm sick of women being told they have to be anything other than themselves to be happy. I know I was in the #fitspo industry for years, and I still want you to care for your body – but this bullshit. You guys asked for a hashtag – so if you wanted to repost this with #fuckyourfitspo and @wayofgray – that would be amazing! Let's get this out to as many people as possible!
A post shared by Sophie Gray (@wayofgray) on Jul 12, 2017 at 8:43am PDT
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.
Hi, I'm Sophie Gray. No, not @wayofgray. I have two sisters, my parents are Scottish. I currently live with the love of my life and our two puppies. No, I'm not just some "Instagram Model" here to look at. I easily get overwhelmed with emotions. I cry during movie trailers about dogs. I also cry while looking at my puppies because I love them so much. No, I'm not some emotionless computer screen that easily shrugs off mean comments. Growing up, I never had a large group of friends and wasn't liked by many people. I also now have a wonderful group of girlfriends who support me no matter what. No, I'm not "just another popular girl who thinks she's important enough to share her life online." I'm also not "some loser who people only like on the Internet." I love cookies, and pizza, and Netflix, and donuts, and ice cream and basically all unhealthy food. I also love green smoothies and super foods. No, I'm not some "twig bitch" who eats nothing and doesn't understand what cravings are. I'm also not the healthiest eater in the room. I stay home 99.9% of the time on weekends. But, I also love to go out dancing. No, I'm not trying to be liked by everyone and be seen at all times. I know what it likes to not want to be Sophie Gray. My experiences with self harm and suicide make that very clear. I know what it's like to create a persona and play pretend. I know what it's like to want to be anyone other than yourself. Why do you think you see me as @wayofgray? But, it's time to stop pretending. It's time to take off the mask. It's time to own who I truly am. So no, I'm not @wayofgray. I'm not an Instagram Model or someone who's overly emotional. I'm also not emotionless or super popular. I'm not the healthiest eater or your fitspo. I'm not outgoing or totally introverted. I'm also not my past or my future. I'm not something that can be labeled and written off. I'm Sophie Gray. And I want us all to stop pretending, own who we are and accept the shit out of that person.
A post shared by Sophie Gray (@wayofgray) on Aug 2, 2017 at 11:37am PDT
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.”
Read more from Yahoo Style UK: