If you didn't know who 24-year-old Adelaide girl Kayla Itsine was and stumbled upon her Instagram account, you might notice one post where she's holding a mop in her laundry, wearing a crop top and tracksuit.
You'd notice her killer abs, learn that cleaning is her "me time", and smile at her tongue-in-cheek jibe at her partner who evidently leaves clothes on the floor. What you probably wouldn't realise through this post alone is that Itsines is the absolute It Girl of the Fitspo (fit + inspiration) movement, and that this personal trainer has – wait for it – nearly 4 million followers.
It's hard to say how much Itsines is worth, but her 12-week Bikini Body Training Guides start at $69.97 and her online followers enthusiastically spread the word. Itsines is not alone in her ability to reach a wide audience and profit from her expertise in the online health and fitness world.
Fitso flag-bearer Rochelle Fox.
Consider these three Melbourne women: Model Steph Claire Smith (811,000 Instagram followers) has an e-cookbook, Keep It Clean. ($19.95 for two downloads) Nutritionist and yoga teacher Lola Berry (95,000 Insta followers, although her reputation was built on videos she posted online eight years ago) is also the author of six cookbooks and purveyor of a "youth elixir", while model Laura Henshaw (nearly 44,000 Insta followers) is the co-founder and director of Four Protein, a powder made from four ingredients. ($21.95)
It's enough to make the big guns take notice. Australian-founded company Swisse has aligned itself with local "influencers" such as Lola Berry, Love Me Fit website founder Bec Wilcoc and model turned health and lifestyle blogger Rochelle Fox, the latter two who also collaborate with Nike.
Typically, the social media world of health and fitness is filled with pretty pictures: yoga stretches against the backdrop of a sunset, fashionable workout gear, salads in technicolour hues. But the ones who've gone Next Level Guru have managed to implement resonating messages about balance and body confidence.
Lola Berry has 95,000 Instagram followers and has published six cookbooks. Photo: Nic Walker
Hayler Roper (author, fitness model, runner of boot camps, 13,800 Insta followers) posts one quote that shows her flexible attitude towards food: "It amazes me how much exercise and extra fries sound alike."
Ellie Lemons (model, personal trainer, sports nutritionist, e-book author, 33,000 followers) writes: "In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act."
These are not original quotes, but that's hardly the point. Instagram is more about creating connection than about creativity.
Melbourne media personality and health professional, Andi Lew. Photo: Kate Walsh
And who could deny that achievement? A good portion of Kayla Itsines' success relies upon the people in the community who cheer one another on Instagram, since she posts before and after shots of her program's transformation results.
As she says, "My Instagram account is not based around me. It's where like-minded women come together and support each other."
Despite the radical physical changes of many followers after completing Itsines' guides (hello, six-pack!), she claims that, "I want to target how people feel rather than how people look. How they look is just a bonus."
Jules Lund has launched the app Tribe, to connect brands with online influencers. Photo: Supplied
She, like so many other wellness influencers, is awfully good at Oprah-speak: her words are inspirational, motivational and full of those "A-ha!" moments.
"I want women to love themselves and be happy and healthy and strong and not focus on the weight they see on a scale … it doesn't matter what you look like, but what you feel like …You shouldn't strive for perfection, but to be the best you can be," says Itsines.
If fitness were a religion, it would be easy to see why she has so many converts. Last week, TV and radio personality Jules Lund launched Tribe, an app that connects brands with online influencers so that "social media tastemakers ... can be paid for the brands they already use and love".
He says that the women of the online health and fitness movement have had burgeoning success on Instagram for good reason.
"The social sweet spot on Instagram is female, fashion, fitness and lifestyle. Those who fit into that profile have success beyond their wildest imagination. For instance, a female fashion model's following can grow exponentially because they have global appeal. Girls want to look like them and guys want to look at them.
"But fitness models are now superseding their fashion counterparts, because they have the attractiveness of models but with a practical application. They not only look good, but they encourage you to do the same through a healthier lifestyle."
And even though looking good is only part of the equation, it's a big part in the Social Wellness trend. When designer Emily Highfield launched her sports label, Hunt, this year, she was keen to create a fashion brand that worked alongside a healthy lifestyle – and was infinitely photo-worthy.
"With the wellness trend, previously it was a bit more scientific and not as cool, but because of the social media craze of photographing juices and fitness people doing sit-ups on videos and looking hot in sports gear, the whole fashion-y aspect merged into the fitness and wellness industries as well."
As the blogger behind Stylebk (that Instagram account has over 40,000 followers), Highfield knows first-hand about an Influencer's impact.
"We've been working with lots of bloggers since the start, because to have all different girls wear your product is great to have on your feed."
So far, that hasn't entailed paying for posts – "but it's something we're open to. With the bigger bloggers, they could do one post and you could sell out of that item they're wearing in a day, or less".
And here's the rub: most of these health and fitness Influencers will accept money to promote brands, although their condition is that it's only for brands they believe in. Typically, they won't promote weighing devices/detox teas or anything they deem "unhealthy", but accepting money for posts is an acceptable part of their income.
Another grey area: although some of the health and fitness bloggers/Instagrammers/Pinterest pages/ Snapchatters are people who've studied some kind of health, sports or nutrition course, others are devoid of professional knowledge. It's up to the reader to discern who has got the expertise.
Ellie Laffne (@healthycleantimes) is only 19, and has nearly 32,000 Instagram followers. She readily admits she lacks qualifications in the health and fitness field, which poses no problem: her account provides inspiration, not advice.
It began when she took over a friend's Instagram page at the end of year 11 and "posted my journey about body positivity". Hers is certainly a good message: "A lot of people are pushing their diets and their whipped, shredded bodies, and that's bad for a girl's body image. Normal people can't look like that.
"I'm a normal girl, and I love health and fitness and just want to feel healthy and energised. It doesn't have to be taken so seriously. [My Instagram account] is more about showing healthy food around Melbourne."
Currently studying public health and health promotion at Deakin University, she realised she gained more followers when she developed a personal voice.
"I write about my personal life – if I'm eating cookies one night or have had a bad week of sleeping. Some days I feel bad about myself, and some days I feel great."
That's something vlogger (video + blogger) Rochelle Fox echoes. Her first posts on social media had a fashion bent, until an entry about how meditation transformed her life got a huge response.
"That's when I wanted to keep the conversation going ... [My generation] is so go, go, go, that everyone is looking for balance."
Her followers also responded well to posts where she admitted that all wasn't so rosy. "One example was when I was travelling, and arrived in Budapest. I hit a slump, and wrote that I haven't been feeling that great lately, but today I'm feeling better. I keep it like a diary, and am real about things … At the end of the day, all I want to do is inspire." But, she adds, "even though social media isn't real life, it isn't all fake, either."
Fox says this in response to the controversy surrounding 18-year-old Queenslander Essena O'Neil – a highly successful Instagrammer who recently quit the medium, but not before she revised all her previous posts explaining what was really going on behind the scenes.
While her Instagram account showed an oft bikini-clad girl who was smiling, O'Neill revisited them with comments such as: "Took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this."
Rochelle Fox, for one, concurs that posts "are an edited version of our lives, and I think everyone knows that. But she adds that "it doesn't mean that everyone is faking it. Personally, that's not my experience, in terms of living a lie".
Fox's agent, John Scott, has an agency – Platform Me – that solely looks after social media stars. He says that their images are somewhat tarnished by others in the industry who start to act with entitlement when they see what their contemporaries can earn or the attention that can be gained.
"I had two young girls who could not understand why they weren't getting the big jobs. They were extremely pushy, ringing me constantly. At the top of this industry, there are superstars, but underneath that are everyday people who are bubbling along with 5000 followers but still appeal to brands because they're at the coal-face of consumerism.
"It can go to their heads. It is an incredibly narcissistic environment and, from a personality point of view, there are people who have trouble defining boundaries around that narcissism."
And the stayers are the ones who don't rely on social media as a means to an end, but have created a brand from their name, services or products.
Now 30, Lola Berry began posting videos on the web when she was 22, including healthy and appealing life hacks such as how to cure a hangover by cutting half a lemon and putting it under your armpits. ("The worst-case scenario: you're going to smell nice," she says.)
Nowdays, she says that "social media is its own currency. It's so powerful and it's accessible to everyone in real time". She has also seen the shift from gorgeously edited posts to the demand for real things happening right now.
"People love a cool image of a healthy meal, but they want to know what you're having for dinner that night, as opposed to a beautiful image you've Photoshopped from two weeks ago. They want authenticity and a real connection to the person they're choosing to follow. Someone in the public wants to feel, 'This is achievable for me'. If you make it too extreme and perfect and unrealistic, you automatically cut off someone's connection to you."
And although her popularity and success go far beyond the net, she knows that these days the two are very much intertwined. "I am probably more valuable to everyone I work with because of my social media following. I'll sign a big contract with a big sponsor [companies that Berry has collaborated with include Swisse and Grill'd], and my social media engagement is part of the contract."
She adds that, "If your message is clear, if your passion is high, you'll go far."
[By Rachelle Unreich] [Read More] [From Sydney Morning Herald] [Image From Zannavandiijk.co.uk]