Unless you live entirely outside the world of social media, you’ve probably heard of “fitstagrams”. Girls, guys, and people of all ages are embarking on their fitness journeys—publicly.
Additionally, Instagram has been receiving a whole host of criticism for inspiring negative comparison. People look at themselves and their real lives and proceed to compare them to the filtered, beautified lives portrayed on Instagram. Inevitably, reality comes up short. If you’ve heard of Madison Holleran, you’re likely aware of the consequences of this kind of negativity when it spirals out of control.
One minute you’re feeling fine; then you open Instagram and immediately feel inadequate. What happens, then, when you open the app 10 or more times every day? (And let’s be real: that’s a modest estimate.) That’s a lot of inadequacy for one person to deal with.
At the same time, the fitness industry has absolutely exploded on Instagram, and fitness-related images began to conglomerate on the app. Alongside companies, individuals interested in health and fitness followed suit and a very confusing, frustrating, and unattainable image of physical fitness was born.
Thousands of accounts exist with the sole purpose of posting images of ideally “fit” bodies—bodies that all look exactly the same and, frankly, bodies that are unrealistic for people practicing good health. Even more accounts exist to showcase one person’s everyday experience with fitness—in many of these cases, however, this portrayal is first sifted through so that only the impressive, jealousy-inducing, and physically appealing aspects are allowed to seep through. (Read here about narcissism and inaccurate portrayals of the self in the fitness industry.) Going off of these accounts alone, you’d think these people never bloat, walk around with a forever flexing 6-pack, and exert an unwavering willpower to never even touch a baked good.
The hashtags aren’t any better. If you search #fitspiration (a hashtag which at its core means inspiration for pursuing fitness), your feed becomes littered with sexualized “perfect” fit bodies, quotes that shame balanced and healthy mindsets of moderation, and images of food consisting of mostly protein shakes and raw vegetables. No, I am not exaggerating. Go try it.
So, for someone seeking information on Instagram about what being “fit” really means, these messages are a perfect storm for an unrealistic ideal of health and fitness. These messages induce a perfection-based mindset, and the result is unflattering and caustic.
Here’s the thing about these body-centric, perfect-or-quit messages: none of them are true. They do not portray an accurate and honest picture of what fitness is, what fitness looks like, and how fitness feels. No, it should not feel torturous. It also is not perfect. No one just “gets fit” without any form of a struggle or without some hiccups along the way.
Keeping that in mind, what would an honest (and I mean truly honest) fitstagram even look like?
The Instagram that shows off immense #GAINS and flaunts what she’s got, but also admits to sometimes feeling insecure and negative about her body.
The Instagram that (gasp) addresses weight gain as well as weight loss.
That talks about the obsessive mindset of tracking macros, weighing food, and weighing yourself. That then talks about how these things can harm your mental health and happiness. That then addresses the struggle that comes with letting go of these things entirely.
Enter the honest Instagram that addresses the plethora of struggles, ups and downs, and learning processes that come with finding what it really means to be healthy and fit.
The reality of physical fitness, as I’m sure anyone who’s even dabbled in healthy living is aware, isn’t always completing amazing workouts, loving your body, and eating vegetables and oatmeal like nobody’s business. No; sometimes it’s half-assing a day at the gym because you’re feeling drained, eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting, and struggling with a changing body image. Sometimes it sucks. And by ignoring the parts that suck (by “filtering” them on Instagram), we’re only hurting our collective self-esteem, our productivity, and eventually our progress.
This is Kelly now:
There is so much pressure from social media to only post your best. If your delt isn’t poppin’, don’t post it. If your quads aren’t looking swole, you’d better take another photo. But, we put this pressure on ourselves. It is OUR duty to celebrate and love our bodies, REGARDLESS if it receives the approval or praise from people of the Internet. Besides, if someone thinks you’re super muscular, hot, attractive, whatever.. But you don’t have that confidence, does their view of you even matter? NOPE. Your perception of your body is the only one that truly matters. All you have is you and your viewpoint at the end of every day. Start loving and parading your beautiful self around, even if there’s no audience to validate it💃🏻#SelfLoveWins
If this image is all you had to go on, you’d of course see all the great things about Kelly and her body. She’s strong, confident, and #killingit. And you would be correct—those things are 100% true.
But Kelly isn’t letting you think that that’s all there is to see. Like anyone who decides to pursue physical fitness, she’s had some bumps along the way, and she’s making sure her followers see that.
Kelly grew up hating her body. She recalls often in her captions how it felt to be 10 years old and struggling with body image, anxiety, and restrictive eating. Her disordered eating habits (which come in all shapes and forms, as they did for Kelly) continued through her adolescence. Now, she is far along on her path through recovery. She admits that she is still learning along the way. But she’s sharing her process with the world: and her followers see that they are not alone in their struggle. Kelly admits that she isn’t perfect: she, too, occasionally binges on food. And her followers breathe a sigh of relief because suddenly, being a person who struggles with binge eating isn’t so shameful anymore, and instead being that person becomes 100% okay.
Kelly shares her struggles and lessons in a few ways. She (of course) posts them on her Instagram. Here, she also shares food she eats (nutritious foods sometimes and sometimes not), the workouts she conquers in the weight room, and the days she spends enjoying other non-fitness-related activities. The result is a feed that portrays a balance of the good, the bad, and everything in between about being someone who’s fit.
She also posts videos to YouTube. These videos have different themes (I recommend you check them all out because there are lots of different topics that may or may not apply to you) but all feature Kelly talking through a struggle she’s overcome regarding fitness and health. Some of these struggles address topics popularly considered to be “taboo”: allowing yourself to eat more instead of eat less, living with binge eating disorder, and dealing with what it feels like to gain weight.
Gaining weight and size is VERY difficult, especially when summer time is coming and we’ll be showing more skin. I FEEL YOU. And I think my youtube video on weight gain can help tremendously 🎥Click the link in my BIO🎥 Weight gain is one of the ultimate sources of struggle and insecurity for all of us. WHY? I will tell you. It confuses us, it frustrates us, but it doesn’t have to control us! I talk about how to become comfortable with having the desire to be lean, but realizing what is healthier and CHOOSING what is better for you in the long run. I know so many of you are sick and tired of trying to change your body or shaming the way it looks at this moment. No more! And I am so excited to be a part of your self love and body positivity journey 😚💕
A video posted by Kellyufit@gmail.com (@kellyufit) on
The conglomeration of these outlets results in an empowering and inspiring portrayal of real fitness in today’s society. There’s no doubt that Kelly both empowers and inspires tens of thousands of her followers.
So what’s it like to be this public person—to be this flawed, changing, and admired image of honest fitness?
I had the chance to talk with Kelly on the phone, so I’ll let her tell you herself.
1. How did you decide to start being “kellyufit” on instagram?
Growing up, Kelly was a singer, a dancer, and didn’t know a thing about fitness. She “never worked out”, “never knew how to run”, and “had no muscle”, she admits openly. “I developed an eating disorder at age 10,” she explained. “I never had a proper recovery, and at age 11 I started in a restricting and bingeing cycle of eating.” These habits continued through her adolescence, and Kelly continued to struggle with body image and disordered eating.
My eating disorder became a recovery journey. And everyone has their own. Some may still look just as thin as they were when they were struggling the most, and others may gain weight and look completely different. We need to stop judging the physicality of it all as “PROOF” that we are recovering or recovered. It’s your story. No one else should feel like they even have the right to comment on your struggle, your journey, or your life. Own YOUR story and never let anyone else’s attempt to huge or label you distract you from your goal. And that goal for me? To heal. To love myself. And to give so much love to that 12 year old girl on the left. Because she desperately needed it. #RecoveryWarrior #SelfLoveWins 💕
A photo posted by Kellyufit@gmail.com (@kellyufit) on
In college, Kelly dated a guy who was interested in fitness. Hanging out with him and some other people who were interested in fitness, Kelly heard about the paleo diet. “I thought: that’s how I’ll get hot and skinny and healthy,” she said. “And it was a great way to start, but it was still restrictive.”
So when Kelly started her public fitness journey 3 years ago, @kellyufit was originally an account called @fitpaleolife. Her posts were mostly about food she was eating on her paleo diet when she started, but as Kelly learned more about fitness and her goals changed, so did her feed. She learned “a lot from Instagram, lots of Bodybuilding.com”, and mostly “just started to learn on [her] own”.
After a year, Kelly no longer was eating paleo. Hence, the name change to @kellyufit.
2. Was your goal always to become “insta-famous”? How did you get to where you are now?
“Not at all!” Kelly emphasized. “I just joined it for, like, the food paleo thing. My account was just food, and then I realized I wanted to tell people who I was, tell people who I am, be transparent with my struggles.”
Once she started sharing, she found that her honesty and struggles resonated with a lot of people, and she started to truly love being part of the fitness community.
“People care about what you have to say,” Kelly said. “I made a lot of friends.”
Kelly went on to explain that she was really inspired by people who were open, who were “talking about their stuff”, as she described it. Kelly grew up “never knowing people talked about this stuff. I looked up to those people.” She noticed that she, too, shared their struggles and realized, “Wow, I can help someone with this, too.”
3. How do you foresee your Instagram and your posts changing/growing in the future?
“I think it’s always progressing,” Kelly replied, “as I learn more about myself and my journey, and sharing that.”
Instagram is not her career or her whole life by any means, but it is a large part of it. Kelly emphasized again and again that she genuinely wants to help people by showing that she struggles, too: her transparency is key.
Therefore, Kelly doesn’t have a specific plan for the direction her Instagram will grow. Instead, she imagines it will evolve naturally as she does, just as long as she continues being honest along the way.
4. Do your career aspirations outside of the @kellyufit account involve health and fitness?
While Kelly’s career aspirations do involve health, they don’t focus on fitness. Kelly is interested in studying childhood development and health. Currently, she is works with a professor on research at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, “working on studying childhood obesity, genetic and social environment factors of obesity, from more of an academic standpoint.”
“I like that there is separation between the two,” she admitted, referring to her Instagram and her career.
Kelly is also thinking about pursuing a phD, and is interested in research about mental health and eating disorders.
5. What advice do you have for people who want to start their own fitness instagrams?
“If you want to begin your own,” Kelly began, “find something that sets you apart.” She then clarified an important point, “but don’t worry about it so much! Your goal should not be to be famous. It is your journey and you have to do it for yourself.”
“If you’re doing it for others, it will feel like a burden,” she explained. If you’re focused on the approval of others along, you won’t have a genuine purpose of your account. “People want to watch you grow,” Kelly professed, “because it inspires them. They can tell if you aren’t being genuine.”
So in summary: be honest, and do it for you.
6. What do you foresee changing, or have the most hope will change, about the way we view health and fitness in the future?
“My biggest hope,” Kelly began confidently, “is that people stop looking for answers from other people. Fitness is so individual; every person is so different! In the beginning, you need something to follow to get your bearing, sure, and that’s okay. But realize that you need to do what’s best for you, that you are your own person. What works for someone else may not work for you. Honor your own body, because someone who looks really great may not have all the answers.”
7. How has social media impacted your personal journey with food and fitness so far?
“Social media has had so much of a positive impact on me,” Kelly says. “I would have never learned about lifting and nutrition and health without it.”
She does also recognize that there is a side to it that’s dangerous. “But because it is so saturated with leanness and images, it put a lot of pressure on people to feel like they need to look a certain way.”
Kelly explains that this drawback has “been a good test to find my own balance, and to learn how to find that for myself.”
8. What has been the biggest challenge in maintaining your fitstagram?
“Just like with celebrities, it can change within a day,” Kelly describes. “You can be relevant one minute and irrelevant the next.”
“That’s why it’s so important to do it only for yourself. If that relevance changes, you might lose all confidence and self worth if you’re doing it for that reason. You can’t tie yourself to the idea of being famous—we’re all just humans, and we have to take care of ourselves first.”
9. Alternatively, what’s your favorite part of running your Instagram and making videos?
“When I truly get to interact with so many incredible people—people who are working so hard on themselves, and who want to heal, get better, and repair their relationships with themselves and their bodies and food. When I get comments that I’ve been able to encourage them to seek therapy or other help, knowing that I can inspire them to love themselves is so rewarding.
“I wish I had someone to help when I was younger to voice these things that I could have learned from, and I love to be that for other people.”
10. Who are your role models?
“I have so many!” Kelly paused. “But I want to give credit to @josievmai.
“When I first started I found her. She and I were the only Asian people I saw on Instagram who were interested in fitness, and on her profile she wrote ‘binge eating disorder recovering’. And I never knew what that was. When I googled it, I realized that I had it, and she put a name and a face to everything I’ve struggled with for 10 plus years.”
“We’ve met in person,” Kelly recalled enthusiastically, “We went to the Olympia last September. That was amazing. And we’ve chatted—she’s a great person who preaches balance and living your life and not needing to be the fit, calorie-counting, super muscular image of fitness.”
A photo posted by Vmfitness – Josie Mai (@josievmai) on
And now Kelly does the same– and it’s her turn to inspire whatever comes next.