It’s been a while between posts! The good news is that my tardiness is because I got a new job, and it’s been keeping me really busy. The bad news I’d hinted darkly about in previous newsletters was, of course, that I had lost my old job. I am not alone in this. The tech industry has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs in the last few months. The news just broke that media darling Xero is set to shed 800 jobs, with the promise of more job losses to come.
This, like all layoffs, is horrible. It will devastate lives and cause enormous trauma. Naturally, this has caused Xero’s share price to skyrocket.
On that note, hearing from readers has been a huge help to me while I’ve been going through my own kind of crappy time. One of my favourite stories was from someone who’d found themselves working for a “body influencer” in the long-ago time of 2018. I asked them for permission to print it, and they agreed. Here it is, in all its influencey glory.
“I used to work for an influencer,” the email began.
I was fascinated. The writer had seen the post on Webworm about my Cynic’s Guide to Self-Improvement project, and wanted to dish on what they’d seen behind the scenes. They requested to remain mostly anonymous, which I’m fine with, so we’ll call them Diane. And we’ll name the well-known influencer Sarah Lynn, for not-getting-sued reasons. I’ve lightly edited Diane’s words for brevity and clarity.
”Sarah Lynn has begun a new wellness pivot in the last few years, but she was originally part of the influencer era that came off Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide (BBG), the trend of getting as slim as possible — sorry, as healthy as possible,” Diane writes.
“Sarah Lynn launched off the exposure she got from this to get into the trend of ‘big butt, tiny everything else’. Side note: writing this down feels like I am speaking another language — but at the time it all felt very normal!”
The Bikini Body Guide! My wife and I had this book, briefly. She’d bought it because it had nice food photos, and she’d hoped for some good smoothie recipes, but when we looked through it in detail the food was expensive and unappealing. I’m pretty sure the book has since made the trip to the op shop. Diane continues:
“Sarah Lynn launched a bunch of workout guides, originally called Dat Bod by Sarah Lynn1, then renamed to Dat Ass with Sarah Lynn2, all focused on building a big butt. It was the ‘in’ thing. Eating disorder heaven if I'm honest, but that's a topic for another day. Essentially she did this rinse and repeat content like other influencers for a few years and got about a million followers on IG. Not to discredit her work ethic but in her own words 'my body was my business card'. And a lot of impressionable women with low self esteem wanted to look and live like her.”
While there’s plenty to say about how men are bombarded with unhealthy body aspirations, there’s no doubt in my mind that things are worse for women. For those that feel their body doesn’t measure up, “body influencers” can have a powerful, well, influence.
“This is pretty much where I come in,” Diane says. “Sarah Lynn had her fitness empire, and was launching a clothing and swimwear brand, and was about to launch an app for her fitness guides. I was a working as a graphic designer, and like a lot of graphic designers nowadays I had social media and marketing experience, I had also been a long long term follower (and, like, mega fan — it was embarrassing.) Sarah Lynn knew about my work, so she hired me to help with some graphics and managing her socials when it came to moderating comments, checking orders etc.”
Diane says that, in hindsight, the relationship between her and Sarah Lynn was — if not exploitative — certainly a bit one-sided. “Looking back, I was clearly simply the cheap/cost saving option instead of hiring a capable agency to manage all this. I was only 20 and very fresh out of Uni,” she explains.
Once Diane was let behind the scenes, things got wild. It turns out that a sizeable proportion of your favourite fitness influencers are keeping some unsavoury secrets. For starters, because a lot of them weren’t actually trained fitness professionals, they simply hired someone else to make their workouts for them.
“This is when the curtain of the industry was pulled away,” Diane says. “I found out a lot of influencers in the space were surprisingly dishonest when it came to the lifestyle they promoted (and profited from). For one, all the workouts Sarah Lynn was making for her app were actually being made by another personal trainer we’ll call ‘Mr Peanutbutter.’ Sarah Lynn just modified/approved the workouts. There was science and a lot of knowledge behind the workouts but it felt weird knowing that Mr Peanutbutter was writing programs for a lot of influencers who would add their branding and sell as their own knowledge.”
Of course, it gets a bit darker than white-labelling someone else’s fitness program to pretend you have exercise expertise that actually belongs to someone else. It turns out that the fastest way to a BikiniBod™️ might not actually be snacking on salads and doing affirmations. It’s more likely to be starvation and steroids.
“Mr Peanutbutter was the one that accidentally let slip that a few of his clients (aka the influencers) were on steroids, some because they competed in bikini comps and some just because they weren't getting the results they wanted with their own workout guides!” Diane writes. “The biggest shock for me was finding that one of the users was his own girlfriend, Secretariat, who was and is still THE Aussie fitness influencer next to Kayla Itsines. Mr Peanutbutter let slip — thinking back on it, maybe it was just common knowledge for the meeting attendees — that because she had a brand deal coming up for a skincare company and the steroids were giving her acne, she needed to pause on the ‘roids during that brand deal. Just imagine 20 year old me sitting on this zoom call like 😳.”
This is somehow shocking and yet not surprising at all. Steroids are the dirty open secret of the fitness and wellness influencing world. Take, for example, Liver King, who was a male body influencer who amassed millions of followers across YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok over the last year. I say “was” because he recently self-cancelled with the wildly unsurprising revelation that he used steroids.
Like many influencers who target young men, Liver King (real name Brian Johnson) urged a return to a more “ancestral” lifestyle, suggesting that men had become “lost, weak, and submissive.” He uploaded videos of himself — often accompanied by his two teenage sons Rad and Stryker3 — eating giant slabs of raw liver and other organs, which he credited for his burly physique.
It was a lie. Brian was (of course!) jacked up to the fucking nines on ‘roids. His apology video, a seemingly necessary step in the journey of any modern influencer, is the last thing he uploaded to YouTube, and it’s well worth watching, ideally on 2x speed for maximum comedy value.
“Yes. Yes I've done steroids, and yes I am on steroids, monitored and managed by a trained hormone clinician (sic),” Liver King says, with the only surprise in his statement being that whoever gave him his drugs had any training at all.
Back to Diane, with her story of bikini body influencers who were also, slightly less obviously, on steroids.
“Shortly afterwards, Sarah Lynn and her brand moved to an anti-diet perspective that caused a LOT of drama. I was overwhelmed by it and dipped out — hashtag #selfcare, lol. Sarah Lynn is now semi-retired from the influencer world and is mostly just talking about meditation and reconnecting with her own spirituality. It was a whirlwind year but what I got out of it is that everything about health and wellness is fake, so just take what you enjoy!”
And that’s it. I’m really grateful to Diane for sending her story. I’m not sure that everything about every wellness or fitness influencer is fake — but I’m sure that a hell of a lot of it is, and that the space would benefit from a lot more accreditation, training, and skepticism. And I doubt that any of those things are coming any time soon, so all we can do is exactly what Diane suggests.
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So yeah. Back in the moment: if you’re affected by the tech industry’s job-killing spree, I am so sorry. You don’t deserve this. I’m gutted that I don’t have anything more helpful to say, and I hope you find something new soon. If the posts I see on my LinkedIn feed are anything to go by, lot of people caught up in this stuff are finding solace in various forms of self-improvement. All I can say, having gone through this several times now, is don’t risk burning out. You’ve just gone through a shitty experience, so take good care of yourself.
Walking is probably good.
During the thankfully brief downtime I had, I did some painting — as you’ll know if you read my Substack chat or the previous post. Here’s how the thing is looking. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not too far off being done! But looking at it now, I can see a few things that are a bit wonky… hmm. Better nip down to the garage and suss it out.
So, for those of you who are following along with the self-improvement stuff — how are you doing? Let me know in the comments.
I’m up to five consecutive pullups now. I’ll be Liver King-sized in no time, I’m sure.
Look out for upcoming posts, in which we will discuss sleep, and masturbation. (Not at the same time, and probably not in the same post.)
Yours in cynicism,
Not the workout program’s real name. But I wish it was. ↩
Real names “Rad” and “Stryker.” ↩
Looking for a disclaimer? Don’t worry, there isn’t one. But a few people have told me they haven’t subscribed because they thought they had to pay. You don’t, and my intention is that you never will. Subscribing is free, and you should only pay if you a.) feel like supporting me that way and b.) can afford it. ↩