Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz published 16 January 2018

With the perfect hair, makeup and life, and all that constant inspiration and positivity, Ashy Bines seems like the caricature the perfect personal trainer. Ashy sells the dream of the perfect body and makes it sound easy. Just follow the programme, get the clothes, use the shampoo and take the supplements.

As a health and wellness professional, I feel inadequate when I see images of Ashy. I’m not as bubbly, extroverted or perfect as all that. I don’t wear makeup when I workout and I can’t even see my abs.

The problem with Ashy and other similar social media influencers is their message of conformity. According to them, it’s a certain body type that’s desirable or ‘healthy’ (i.e., the one they have), we should all be striving towards this, and their one size fits all approach is easy, affordable and will work for everyone. It’s a tempting message if you’re young and self-conscious.

We know deep down that these images are not realistic or achievable for most of us, and that having the ‘perfect’ body won’t make us happier, but that won’t stop us from buying into the dream.

The Ashy Bines Phenomenon is inescapable, and spellbinding for a few reasons:

1 – What makes Ashy Bines attractive to young women, is precisely the thing that should make us think twice about trusting her – she has no qualifications in health, nutrition, or wellness. Women find this ‘inspiring’ – here’s an ordinary person, just like them, who’s approachable, shares her journey and looks amazing. It’s easy to start thinking if she can do it, so can we.

2 – We’re social creatures – we all want to be part of a community. And social media makes this so simple. You can tune into Ashy sharing her story daily, get to know and trust her and then she’s inviting you into her tribe. In an age when many of us are struggling to make meaningful connections, here’s an easy way to find acceptance and community.

3 – The promise that you too can be like her – the confidence, celebrity and influence. She’s selling a dream and appealing to our vulnerabilities with inspirational, motivational sound bites and images. You’ll find lots of wannabe Ashy Bines on Instagram – maybe without the commercial empire behind them, but heaps of girls share their perfect life, body, food and exercise in the hopes of becoming Insta-famous. They may not consciously express this desire, it most likely comes dressed as a want to ‘educate and empower other women about healthy living and body confidence’.

Maybe Bines didn’t set out to con people out of money, maybe she’s just someone with an accidental empire that’s gotten out of hand. She’s done an extraordinary job building a brand, identifying her market and selling her message. Seems that she’s failed in customer service, maintaining relationships and shown lack of judgement in some of her opinions and posts.

On social media, everyone’s an expert, and somehow our consumer brain is still catching up with the concept this is just another form of advertising and before we pour our trust and money into something we should do our due diligence.

If you’re looking to social media for your health and wellness advice, try someone with a relevant, reputable qualification. Their message will go beyond health as a certain aesthetic, and they will know the path to health is very individual. Some basics that apply to everyone like sticking with unprocessed wholefoods, drinking water and getting adequate sleep but experts are trained to help you identify what’s best for you by considering a multitude of factors like your health history, background, and food and exercise preferences.

Look for people with an evidence-based approach that extends further than ‘this worked for me, so you should try it’ and who demonstrates they have done the research to back up their advice. Pick who you buy from carefully, and be mindful some images being marketed are not realistic or achievable for most people.

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