#fitfam: Growing a(n Extremely) Personal Brand

My 2013 New Year’s Resolution was to lose weight. So original, right? I had been overweight all my life, and though I had lost nearly 30 pounds since 2011, I wanted to take back control of my health, after doctors telling me for the better part of eight years that I needed to do something about my weight.

During January and February, I began an exercise routine—three times a week, I headed to my apartment gym for an hour. 30 minutes on the elliptical and 30 minutes on the arctrainer helped me lose 10 pounds in 2 months. I was ecstatic. But I wanted answers to a lot of questions I had about fitness and nutrition. So I did what any college student would do; I turned to social media. I started following any fitness-related account I stumbled across, and retweeted a few things here and there. Eventually, I came across a group of anonymous accounts who were just girls tweeting about their lives within fitness. I wanted one of those accounts.

On March 17, 2013, I created my own anonymous fitness Twitter account. These accounts have been labeled by many as the “#fitfam”—an online community constructed mainly through social media for fitness junkies worldwide to share the fitness side of their lives. I kept it a secret from friends, family and even my boyfriend for the better part of (at least) six months. It was a diary of sorts; if you scroll all the way back to the beginning of my feed, you’ll see the crazy things I tweeted out to my insignificant following. I tweeted the food I ate & workouts I completed, posted progress photos and goals that I was too nervous to share with my family and friends (how weird is that, right?), and I interacted with other “anon” accounts through @replies and direct messages. I formed a small community, all for myself, based around my increasing love for fitness.

Today I have over 1,500 followers on @alyssafreyfit and am slowly growing the same brand on Instagram. Though nowhere near the following fitness celebrities Katy Hearn and Zoe Rodriguez have—combined, the two 20-somethings have over 1 million Instagram followers—I am able to connect with friends (both IRL and virtual), show off progress photos, get critiques on my powerlifting form (did I mention I’m training for my first powerlifting competition in May?) and share recipes I create in the kitchen, all using two separate social media channels from my personal, more professional accounts.

But wait, Alyssa, I thought you said earlier this semester you were against having separate accounts for personal and professional life. Why the separation?

Yes, that’s right. I don’t think there’s any need to create separate personal and professional identities on social media (sorry to all those who created a new Twitter account for #IS6621). I was taught in journalism school that the most important thing a writer can have is his or her voice. Social media allows people to curate their voice, both personally and professionally. KU men’s basketball, politics, cheerleading and pop culture all comprise a part of my identity, and my identity does not change when I walk into Campion for work each day. I want employers to see my abilities managing social media as well as what makes me unique.

However.

When I created my no-longer-anonymous “fit Twitter,” as many of my friends now affectionately call it, I sought privacy from the real world. I didn’t want my employers to see my stomach, my arms or my breakfast. (Personally, I still would rather not, which is why the channels remain separate.)

I also wanted to make sure I didn’t overload my friends with content they didn’t want to see. Only recently did I create a separate Instagram account when I was participating in #FEED25, a friend’s 25 day social media fitness challenge (which I won!). A friend mentioned to me that “they liked my posts, but it was getting to be a little much.” So I created the account, posted one notification on my personal Instagram account notifying my followers of the transition, and that was that.

I would never hide these accounts from a potential employer (hi, potential employers!) because fitness is an incredibly important part of my life—ask anyone who’s close to me, and they’ll tell you. But I’ve found utilizing these separate channels specifically for fitness has proven successful in cultivating both my “Higher Education-Social Media Junkie-Master’s Student” and “Powerlifting Princess-Donut Diva-Egg Extraordinaire” brands.

13 comments

  1. This is a really great post and honestly such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing something that is so personal to you. I also follow many fitness celebrities on my social media accounts, however I never got into posting about my progress online. But I do know how powerful and supportive these communities are especially when it comes to long term goals such as fitness. As health and wellness has increased in popularity over the last few years I have really noticed SM brands and personalities taking advantage of the movement. I think this is why the wearable fitness technology is so appealing, since it seamlessly tracks fitness accomplishments and then posts them online. It keeps people accountable, while also providing support on their journey. Again great post and good luck on your competition!

  2. wallacekwan99 · ·

    Thank You for sharing such an important part of your life with us! During my late teens and early 20s, I too was a fitness enthusiast. However, I was always trying to pack on the pounds rather than shedding them! Being part of a community (It was Bodybuilding.com in my day) of like minded individuals is very important to keep motivated, as you can get burnt out doing the same exercise routine, and eating the same foods during training I fondly recall chasing after the 17 inch arms, and 46 inch chest, 32 inch waist, and diamond-shaped calves! (and No, I never got them.)

    It is commendable that not only did you stick with your passion for such a long time, but also shared it with over a thousand other followers, some of whom may have never stepped into a gym if not for stumbling upon your story.

  3. Cool post! And like others above me, thanks for sharing something so personal to you! Congrats on your progress, as well! I love how social media has the ability to form communities for all types of interests, and the fitness community is no exception. It’s clear that it has the ability to motivate people and form a network of support for those who are trying to reach their goals. I used to power lift in high school, and the gym that I went to posts videos of all PRs on their Facebook page. It was cool to see what people had to say about my form as well as hear their words of encouragement, so I can definitely relate to that.

  4. Very courageous post! Thank you for sharing all of that. I love seeing social media utilized in this way. Humans of New York, GoFundMe campaigns, and Ice Bucket challenges are all positive impacts through social media. There is also a lot of room for these types of personal success stories.

    Previously, people relied on message boards to achieve a lot of what is now done on social media. I think message boards will always have a place, but social media feels so much more engaging to me, even if it should not. I really like your story and #fitfam hashtag usage.

    Sometimes I do not understand why people go to great lengths to demean others online. To me, it feels so much better to congratulate in this space, than it does to hate. So, congrats–I’m sure you inspire many. Great share!

  5. Congratulations on such a positive life change. Doing these sorts of things on social does create an audience/community that helps reinforce the change (You’ll hear about it when you slack off!).

    I disagree a little bit about the two profiles, depending on the situation. I do think undergrads need separate personal/ professional profiles, at least the way most students at BC use the platform. In the past, unified profiles have led a students “friend” to begin to heckle them in inappropriate ways on the class hashtag, leading to great embarrassment to the student. So you may use SM appropriately, but your network may not, particularly with such a swift change in audience.

  6. Cool story, Alyssa, and good for you! As Prof Kane stated above, its awesome that you made such a positive life change. I follow a bunch of accounts that show fitness progress or healthy foods that you should check out – annavictoria, healthfoodguide, and kayla_itsines are a few of my favorites. I think a lot of people in our generation are joining the fit movement and actually care about gaining strength, not becoming frail, which is so awesome. However, on the other side of things, there are a lot of accounts which promote eating disorders or perpetuate unhealthy body images especially on Tumblr. Hopefully more people follow your footsteps and promote healthy lifestyle choices. Great post!

  7. Really great post! I give you a lot of credit for being so honest about your struggles, accomplishments, and overall goals on social media. I definitely agree with you that it is important to embrace our identities and the parts of our lives that make us who we are- and there is nothing wrong with sharing that on twitter, instagram, Facebook, etc. Not sure how I feel about the separate profiles for personal and professional accounts. I agree with you that it is important for your employers and co-workers to understand who you are as a person, your interests and what you are do outside of work. However, I agree with some of the posts above that for the most part, it is a good idea for undergrads to have separate accounts. Perhaps it is because we have not fully experienced the real world yet to understand what is appropriate for our employers to see on our social media accounts. It also depends on the company that you are working for- some are much more strict about the content that goes up on employees social media pages than others. Interesting things to think about though! Thanks for sharing.

  8. I loved this post, Alyssa! I really enjoyed looking through your fitness twitter and instagram accounts (and am so jealous you went to doughnut plant). I think social media platforms are such an awesome way to keep track of personal progress with fitness. It seems like a great space to learn more about health from various other accounts as well. I admire your strength and determination that shows in all your posts!

  9. meganvtom · ·

    I loved reading your post! It was very brave of you to share this with us. As many have said before me, it is very inspiring to hear that your use of social media was integral in your fitness and weight loss journey. It was especially great to hear about how it helped you to be more and more comfortable with that part of yourself. Also, interesting insight into having separate Twitter accounts. I see where you are coming from with your reasoning, however I think this could be argued on a case by case basis. For instance, separating your fitness account seemed to be a good decision.

  10. I love this post so much!!! Great read. As someone who follows a lot of fitfam Instagrams, it was really cool knowing that you’re part of this group. I actually looked through your Instagram and you follow a lot of the same people I follow (like Em Dunc!). It’s so weird to think we were operating in similar circles but I didn’t know. A funny story, I started following this girl and she didn’t post a pic of her face for a while and then she did after I had been following her for maybe 5 months and I realized it was my brother’s friend!

    ANYWAY,
    I really enjoyed hearing your side of the story. I usually just browse these accounts without reading much about the person, but it was so cool to hear about your experience. I definitely agree with your decision to separate the two – I feel like it would also just make your life easier to do so. I also definitely agree with not hiding these accounts from your employers. I could maybe see a few years ago when fitstagrams weren’t as popular – but now I feel its common to follow and/or have one.

    Again, thanks for sharing, I’m so glad you did!

  11. Excellent story here Alyssa and very well written. Honestly, prior to reading your post, I considered the workout “diaries” that my old Army buddies would submit via social media as somewhat narcissistic. However, the influence that your “fit Twitter” initiative has had on your life has changed my mind. First, celebration breeds motivation so I can now see how documenting your transformation and everyday “wins” was probably very essential in helping you meet your goals. Second, like some many other examples in social media, your initiative connected you to others who are invested (or want to be more invested) in similar body transformation. Building these communities is an excellent thing to do and seems to have changed your life in more ways than you had considered!

  12. Wow Thank you for sharing this! This is amazing! I personally also went through a weight loss journey in middle school in which I lost 30kg. It was very difficult and I can imagine that if it was now, how much SM can help me achieve my goal. I am actually delighted to see people be so positive about another’s fitness journey and offer great feedback and support! Faith in humanity restored.Thank you again for posting about your journey! It is very inspirational!

  13. Alyssa, this is truly an inspirational approach. Congrats on such a major life change. I can imagine the journey was a really difficult one, but overcoming it probably gave you a greater appreciation for life. I recently posted about a fitness social media startup that just went public. I’d like to hear what you think about the platform if you have a chance to read my post and view the site. It’s called Fitmoo.com and the idea of the platform is based around health and fitness. The site places an emphasis on ecommerce so I’ll be interested to hear what you think about that part of the platform too. It sounds right up alley!

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