tldr: Becoming a prominent member of the fitness community within Instagram requires some level of inauthenticity. If one wants to make it big within this realm of social media, they need to draw followers by coming across as overconfident or by making a show of how hard they work to overcome the struggles of a balanced life.

In order to have any status in the Instagram fitspo world one must have a high number of followers. To gain these followers, one must fit into one of three groups; either you take extreme measures to become shredded and then constantly reiterate how much body positivity matters to you; you must extremely body-positive, while not necessarily even being fit, but claim that you’re living in balance; or you must maintain an unhealthily low body fat percentage while claiming that you work harder than anyone in the world and that is the only way one can be successful (these individuals love the phrase “team no days off!”) Overall, one must repeatedly emphasize how “real” they are, which tends to draw in followers in masses.

Not-surprisingly, nearly every top fitspo account on Instagram is fake to some extent. Although that can be said about every IG account in the world, fitspo accounts differ in that they heavily influence their followers. Also, they tend to have a huge following. If someone with 300 followers posts a photo of clothing with a brand name on it they may get 45 likes and a couple of comments. If a fitspo account with 300,000 followers posts a promotional promo for a diet plan, however, a mass of young women and men may go on to try that diet. It becomes dangerous when that diet consists of strict rules to restrict food or workout for four hours a day. More often than not, the fitness “influencers” do not even follow the diet they prescribe for others. It is a common problem in fitness social media, where so many influencers are giving out advice with no evidence behind it, which can be very damaging to hundreds or thousands of their followers.

If an individual wants to succeed and become high-status or influential on IG, every photo/video/caption has to be carefully thought out and crafted before it is posted. Although this process makes their message preplanned and artificial, the person behind the fitness account will almost definitely include something in their post of “being real.” An example of this is a trend that has developed recently, with high status IG fitness accounts posting side-by-side photos in flexed vs unflexed poses. This is supposed to shed some light on how IG is not realistic, as well as draw followers in for the authenticity of the poster. These posts are extraordinarily hypocritical as they are always semi-posed in each photo. Both photos are often photoshopped or at least filtered. This attempt at relating to followers may work for the majority of the fitness industry, but it is obvious to outside viewers that the poster is blatantly lying. This method of boasting of authenticity while simultaneously creating a fake image is an odd phenomenon which quickly increases an IG fitspo account or personality.

Another type of individuals which uses a façade of “reality” to gain status is the typical body positive fitness account. These accounts feature a woman/women who are not necessarily fit or healthy. The key to success with this type of account is claiming to be a part of the fitness world, posting about working out once or twice a week, yet also consuming unhealthy food/not exercising regularly and then posting about your failures. Instead of failure or mistake, this is known as living a “balanced” lifestyle. Individuals who fit this category often post photos showing off their body, especially if they have cellulite or stretch marks. Posts also include “food porn,” including various sugary or fattening deserts. When they post said photos, they claim to be passionate about fitness and health, but also trying to live in balance.

If you watch these accounts over time, however, there often does not appear to be a change in their physical appearance. While it is not absolutely necessary to see physical changes when you exercise, it is fairly common. It comes off as fake to followers if this individuals posts about eating healthy and exercising, but does not actually live a lifestyle following those beliefs. Due to the openness about their physical appearance (posting nearly naked pictures showing off what society deems as “flawed”) many young women become attracted to accounts like this. While I do not believe that any body type is better than the next, I do believe that actual authenticity can go a long way. If an individual does not want to put the work in to lose weight or become healthy, that is absolutely acceptable. It becomes unacceptable, however, when they lie to a large following of men and women, influencing others to believe the individual’s lifestyle is one that others should live.

Status among the IG fitness industry breaks down into likes, comments, and views. All of these variables are used by brands to determine if the IG fitness account is worthy of a sponsor. Typically, they must consider the following of the account they have and how influential the account is. The higher one’s status, the more sponsors they attract. The more sponsors they have, the more money they make. To gain a following, which affords status, one must put on a show for the IG fitness community. Whether it’s promoting a fitness lifestyle that is dramatic and unrealistic, or putting on a façade of “normality,” and balance, one must be willing to incorporate a level of inauthenticity into their life.

An argument could be made against this thesis is suggesting that even if these high-status fitness accounts are not authentic, they are still promoting a better message about body-positivity, balances eating habits, and acceptance of oneself, which is a better message than the fitness community in general tends to promote. It still does not change the fact that these influencers are lying to hundreds and thousands of followers and making money off of it, while promoting a false way of living. Their messages of acceptance and “realness” are lost once it becomes clear that they do not adhere to this actual lifestyle in reality. While having high status in the fitness IG community can be a positive thing, in that an individual can make a lot of money, it can also have a very negative backlash when followers, especially younger ones, start to believe anything a fitness influencer has to say, regardless of any truth behind their message.