The problematic and toxic nature of influencer fitness programmes

Posted by Chloe James in Comment

4 years ago

Going into a New Year, nothing is certain but lockdown and a newfound passion for fitness. If you’ve used Instagram in the past week, you’ll have been inundated with resolutions for a healthier 2021, discounts on protein powder and invitations to join subscription-only sisterhoods of workout tips, meal plans and support from fellow newbies. For influencers, this is the time for launching new projects and rebranding. Former Love Islander Amber Rose Gill went for a celebrity classic: the workout programme.

An Instagram-plugged 2021 workout programme is to internet celebrities what workout DVDs were to anyone famous in the noughties. A slew of Amber’s fellow former Love Islanders such as Alexandra Cane and Zara McDermott have gone down this path since leaving the show, with both facing their fair share of backlash. Zara in particular was criticised for advertising her three stone weight-loss, accused of triggering remarks after describing her former size 10 figure as “unhealthy”. Her own fitness project, A Day with Zara, started as a secondary Instagram documenting her daily workouts and meals. It’s since scaled up to a subscription-based recipe platform, slowly dropping fitness advice tips as, perhaps coincidentally, criticisms trickled in on social media about the lack of expertise behind them.

From a marketing perspective, this lack of credentials is part of the charm of the influencer workout programme. The face of every programme claims to have finally found the secret recipe to quick and easy weight loss. You can trust them – they started as clueless as the rest of us. To give these plans some sense of credibility, most of these tips do actually trickle down from experts. In the case of Amber Gill’s new programme, Amber Flexx, it was co-developed by her trainer, Jon Hosking, and dietician Jo Travers. Amber isn’t the brains behind the operation per se, but the recognisable (and, most importantly, relatable) face. She’s the girl we voted to victory after watching her heart get broken on national television. Since then, she’s built her platform on frank and funny advice for everything from education to sex. And, like a lot of us, Amber put on weight over lockdown. Like a lot of us wish would happen, she lost nearly all of this in six weeks.

Workout programme reality bites

But it’s this relatability that bites. Over lockdown, Amber was defiant about her weight gain. After being shamed for it on TikTok in November, she retaliated that “society doesn’t even know what it wants because one day having a big bum is bad now it’s great, having big boobs was the thing now it’s not, society doesn’t even know so don’t even listen to that shit.” To turn around with a programme that uses phrases like “torch”, “burn” and “blast off” in reference to body fat sits a little too close to the culture of weight-shaming the internet praised her for attacking just a month earlier. Her programme isn’t an introduction to a slow, steady and sustainable lifestyle change that will see you through the New Year. Its six weeks of HIIT and healthy eating will help you lose weight, but progress will inevitably slow by the end of the programme and without any long-term guidance, many will find themselves back at square one – or ready to fork over another £60 to join all over again.

This is a problem bigger than Amber. More goes into a project of this size than one influencer’s weight-loss whims and the decision to produce a programme makes strategic sense at a time where demand for home workouts is so high. But should anyone be taking advice from someone who admits they’re new to fitness? In 2019, research by the University of Glasgow found that just one out of nine UK influencers who make weight management claims actually provide accurate information. You wouldn’t take medical advice from someone whose only qualification was experience in taking antibiotics, and the same logic should apply to all areas of health. While they dabble in all areas of lifestyle, a lifestyle blogger is typically a jack of all trades and although their own experiences and tips do hold weight for anyone looking to start their journey, to sell this as professional advice is questionable. Their advice may come from experts, but can almost always be found for free online when you cut out the middleman and go straight to the source. Quick fixes are always irresponsible. And in the hands of the inexperienced during a lengthy pandemic? Dangerous.

By Chloe James, fashion and beauty editor of CORQ.