'We put people in boxes': Instagrammer ditches bikini shots for real life, sparks backlash
Sophie Gray lost tens of thousands of followers after she made a new policy to stop focusing on appearance
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When you email Sophie Gray through her official website, Way of Gray, an automated email pings back instantly, with an earnest sign off: “Remember, you are so deserving of love!”
Everything the massively popular Alberta Instagrammer does these days comes with a relentless message of self-acceptance; something she argues is all too rare on social media these days.
It’s also something she’s received significant backlash for.
Part of her decision? To stop posting photos of herself in bikinis and skimpy workout clothes. Instead, her recent posts tackle breakouts, online bashing or donuts.
The change has resulted in an exodus of about 53,000 followers over several months.
Gray, 23, has spent the last 5 years cultivating a massive online following as a fitness blogger, which led to speaking engagements, sponsorships and international travel.
Her feed was full of pictures of her in colourful work out gear, showing off a gym-honed physique.
“It always had messages of self love, but then I’d pair it with an image of me in a sports bra,” she said. Inwardly, she was feeling increasingly “crappy” with her own focus on appearance, and what that might be telling her followers.
She realized she had to make a change after she had a panic attack in the Toronto Airport she calls “so terrifying.”
She’d be travelling back from a speaking engagement in the Hamptons when she found herself unable to board the last leg of the flight. So she drove home, halfway across the country, instead.
“Who I was online didn’t align with who I really was,” she said, “The part of that me that was being denied, just need to pull the rug out form under me.”
Gray told Metro that when she first started the account at 18, she’d been looking for acceptance.
“We all have this programmed desire to be accepted, and I found acceptance in the fitness area,” she said. “It chose me, and this version of myself.”
Her account quickly took off, and right now, there are about 411,000 people that follow Gray’s account.
To put that in context, she has significantly more followers than Pamela Anderson, but slightly less than Shania Twain. She’s clear that she is nowhere near celebrity status, but having thousands of online fans does have some weird real world implications.
“I’m not saying that I’m famous, but people do treat me like that, and people who know me from following me will see me in person and freak out,” she said.
The attention came with crushing pressure to look a certain way, she says, and live up to the ideal image she’d spend five years creating.
About a year ago she pulled back her online presence. Then a few months ago she scaled back up, but this time with a different wardrobe and a new message.
“My main mission is to bring a real face to social media, because I think it’s a place where we go to be distracted from our own baggage, and we just end up making ourselves feel bad, I want my channel to be one where you feel heard,” she said.
Things came to a head when another account posted a photo of her, captioned “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
She shot back in the comments: “I’m the person in this photo… I know that pizza and cookies taste way better.”
That post went viral, which shocked Gray as she’d just fired it off in the moment, and drew fresh attention to what she was doing.
Now, she says she loses followers every time she posts a photo, and has had people criticize her for changing her image, or complain that she’s too “negative” now, when she posts about having messy hair, or not being perfectly happy.
“It’s a different kind of impact that I’ve been able to make,” she said, adding that she’s also gained 40,000 new followers because of her focus on real life.
“We like to put people in a boxes,” she said. “But I’m just a girl leading a real life, I’m currently sitting on my couch watching Netflix with my dogs,” she said, laughing.
“That’s my tagline: I want you to accept the shit out of your life.”