Everyone's lives look more polished on social media than they do in real life, but nobody looks as beautiful and happy online as Instagram fitness models. If you're into wellness, you probably follow a few of them—those girls with half a million followers and eight-pack abs who post sunny, flawlessly composed images of themselves doing yoga all over the world. For many of these women, uploading aspirational fitness photos to Instagram has become a full-time career supported by #ads sponsored by activewear and wellness brands, plus modeling contracts and other business ventures they've been able to secure as a result of their social media fame. It sounds like a dream job, but none of today's successful fitness influencers actually aspired to these careers. Because less than five years ago, they didn't even exist. Just ask influencer Melissa Eckman (known on Instagram as @melisfit_), who worked as an accountant for six years before inspiring over 100,000 followers with her skillful scorpion poses and colorful wardrobe of leggings. Only after taking on part-time work as a barre instructor and documenting her fitness journey on social media did Eckman realize that making a living as an online fitness guru could be a reality. Same goes for Australian influencer and founder of fitness site Sporteluxe Bianca Cheah-Chalmers (@biancamaycheah). "Goodness me, I'd never set out to work in the fitness industry," she told us. "But there are so many unbelievable parts of this career. … I don't remember the last day I 'worked.'"
The serendipitous nature of their success makes online fitness models' lives seem all the more enviable. They have perfect bodies, full passports, and lucrative new entrepreneurial opportunities popping up every day. But can it all really be as pristine as it seems online? Do these women truly just spend their days working out, jet-setting, and baking gluten-free muffins? Do they ever feel insecure about their bodies, unmotivated to exercise or post?
To find out the truth behind the 'gram, we had an honest chat with four top social media fitness stars about body image and career. As it turns out, having a job that depends on looking fit and confident online actually comes with some real challenges. Keep scrolling to take an inside look at what being an Instagram fitness model is really like.
It's taken me 26 years to look how I do and feel confident in my body, and I still have days when I despise my face or body.
Some days I'm going on a three-mile hike and eating an açaí bowl, and other days I just want to watch reruns of my favorite old TV shows and snack on M&M's.