Are you aware of what you’re actually liking on social media?

I once read an article that showcased an experiment which to me, proved that social media perpetuates and encourages social alcoholism. The short of it:

An ad agency created a fake profile of a beautiful blonde French girl who had it all: constantly vacationing, on boats, exquisite dinners, etc. Her posts racked up thousands of likes as she racked up thousands of followers who commented on and praised her appearance and glamorous lifestyle. 

The thing that majority of her followers didn’t catch? She was holding a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail in every photo. 

After two months on Instagram, a video was posted to her feed that read,

“On the 1st of August, @louise.delange appeared on Instagram. Two months later, her photos and videos had over 50,000 likes. But were her followers really aware of what they were liking?”

The video then moves into a montage of her posts, with their likes, comments, emojis, and all. Then closes with the statement,

“It’s easy to miss the addiction of someone close.”

This campaign always stuck with me. Not so much for missing the addiction of someone close, but the thought that: Had Louise Delange been a real person, those likes, comments, and emojis would subconsciously be encouraging her to drink and post about it - because that’s the behavior her followers were consistently applauding with enthusiasm, whether that was their intention or not.

Rewatching the video now, the question “but were her followers really aware of what they were liking?” sticks out. 

If we’ve never met, hi I’m Sarah! 👋👋👋 I’m a writer, speaker, entrepreneur and teacher helping people build the life they crave through fitness and mindfulness. 

A pleasure to make your  acquaintance,  stranger!

A pleasure to make your acquaintance, stranger!

I'm writing this article today for two reasons...

  1. To call out how our engagement on social media perpetuates narcissistic and unhealthy behavior

  2. To encourage you to scroll and post intentionally

I am a firm believer in the positive impact social media can have on society and therefore, use it as such. 

  • Social media was the catalyst of growth for Fit University®, a fitness resource and community for college students I created as a student myself

  • Social media has connected me with innumerable people, including my now best friend and co-founder of KINECTION, a traveling movement + music festival

  • Social media allowed me to spread my message that fitness looks and feels differently for everyone to an audience bigger than I ever could have imagined

  • Social media provides me a platform to promote confidence, self love, positivity, individuality, and awareness on nearly a daily basis

On Sunday, I shared a post about the recent shooting at yet another synagogue. I spoke about hate and love and spreading love. See it here

A few minutes went by…one like..maybe two or three. 

I check again 15 or 20 minutes later…another like or two. 

Yes, I check my likes/comments on photos/video after I post them somewhat frequently. How frequently is a product of what I’m doing and where I am but I’d pay you a lot of money to find someone who simply posts and sets their phone down until tomorrow. Instagram addiction is real and we know it 🤷‍♀️

The complete lack of engagement on this post - this post about something so substantial - frustrated me beyond belief.

Not because it was getting only a few likes. 

Not because people weren’t commenting.

But because every time I post a photo of my body in some way, shape, or form, the likes and comments alike, come rolling in within seconds.

This is something that I’ve noticed time and time again, and even have the stats to prove it.

via Instagram insights @sarahjgaines.

via Instagram insights @sarahjgaines.

Now, one could come back and argue that those photos that were most engaged with are about body image. And that the post I shared about the shooting was a text based photo and Instagram is an image-centric platform (as someone called out in the comments). There is no doubt that those factors do contribute to engagement, but I think we all know that those are not the only factors at play.

To back me up on this, I asked for insights from a few others…

“There will always be an internal battle that exists when it comes to the understanding that posts that focus on my body perform significantly better across the board (likes, comments, DMs) than those that don’t.” - Danielle Gertner, personal trainer, founder of Gertner Grind, co-founder of KINECTION.

“I could spend 20-30 minutes making an educational video about how to have proper form in a push-up but if it’s not aesthetically pleasing it gets almost no engagement. We reward looking good over feeling good, aesthetics over education. I was literally told by someone that they were going to increase the number of ass shots on their Instagram because they get more followers. If you want to be successful on Instagram, your photos have to be aesthetically pleasing. Cue BDD, anxiety, imposter syndrome, comparison bubble. - Kara Lennon, fitness instructor, host of UNHESITANT, The Podcast.

People are being taught to praise the fad and dismiss the reality. I’m trying to raise funds to go to Africa. The other day I posted up a picture of me in a bikini with the caption, ‘waiting for spring to come. And then maybe a day or two later, I posted my GoFundMe about going to Africa and raising funds. The bikini post got 300+ likes. The Africa support post…9 likes.” Michelle Turner Young, fitness instructor.

“If it’s me with minimal clothing and barely a caption, tons [of engagement]. If it’s business or nutrition or motivation related… nothing. Apparently being dumb, blonde or sexy, or being apathetic about things, “Sunday, amiright?” - or pizza - gets likes. As if my drive is a turn off to people. I have a boudoir pic I’ve never shared and have contemplated posting it just to see if the theory is right.” - Garrett Wood, author of Dare to Move, host of Dare to Move, The Podcast, founder of Crossroads of Fitness.

And that’s exactly why I posted another photo shortly after the one about the shooting, to prove that theory.

About a year and a half ago, Valerie Sarron, a local boudoir photographer here in Boston, reached out to me to do a photoshoot. She wanted to collaborate because she hears time and time again from her clients that they “don’t have the body for boudoir” or that they “need to lose X pounds before they do a shoot.” The collaboration was one meant to celebrate confidence, owning your body, and self love. I’ve posted many of those photos on my Instagram since then, though I remember being beyond nervous to share it for the first time

I remember thinking, Do these photos stand against everything I preach? Do they make me a hypocrite that I openly speak out against the sexualization of fitness? How can I appropriately say everything I want to say in this one Instagram caption? 

For a bit of context, from 2012- 2014 I was living the #fitspo life. Photo for proof. 😂👇

Me in May 2014, right before my first and only bodybuilding show. This is what I believed fitness was because of the images I was consuming on social media at the time. I wanted to recreate those. But this photo - this look - does not equal fitness. Sure. I’m lean as hell here. I was 98 pounds, eating steamed asparagus and 3 oz of chicken 5x a day at this point.

Me in May 2014, right before my first and only bodybuilding show. This is what I believed fitness was because of the images I was consuming on social media at the time. I wanted to recreate those. But this photo - this look - does not equal fitness. Sure. I’m lean as hell here. I was 98 pounds, eating steamed asparagus and 3 oz of chicken 5x a day at this point.

I probably would have posted that photo with a caption like, Hard work doesn’t come easy. #fitfam #fitness #fitspo

But as my relationship with fitness evolved, so did my mindset.

On April 19, 2016 I wrote an article titled Why #fitspo is bullshit, that I never published.

In it, I explored the rising trend of fitness in relation to social media and asked the question:

Is this new desire to be fit due to the sexualized fashion in which it’s displayed? Would society strive for a fit body if we weren't bombarded with such risqué images? Let’s work together to shift the image of fitness from sexy to an image of strength, balance and energy.

I stand by what I wrote in 2016. Never will you ever now see me take a photo that showcases fitness in a sexualized manner, for that’s not what I believe fitness is about.

The difference with the boudoir photos, though, was that they weren’t showing fitness itself in a sexualized manner; they were showcasing the strength and confidence that I’ve built through fitness. It’s a fine line but a line nonetheless if you’re intentional about it. I wrote in the first photo boudoir photo I ever shared on January 5, 2018,

“This photo is not meant to sexualize (though it does scare the shit out of me to post bc I don’t want people to take it that way). If you know me, you know I am very anti sexualizing fitness. This photo is meant to represent strength, confidence and ownership of my body. Confidence that when people comment on me or my body negatively, I can say “meh” instead of having it affect me. This is a topic that I want to talk about more in 2018.”

Here we are - in the middle of 2019 - and I’m still talking about it. I won’t ever stop talking about it.

Of all the boudoir photos I’ve chosen to share since that shoot, I’ve always been highly selective - never sharing the ones that I deemed too “risqué.” 

And then Sunday happened, when my post about another shooting elicited essentially no response - maybe 20 or so likes- and I got mad. Because I knew, had it been a post of my body, that response would have been there in a heartbeat. 

So I posted one of the boudoir photos I’ve been keeping in my bank - as a way to say,

“Hey guys! Wake up!

Look at what you’re doing with your interactions on social media!

Is this what you need to see in order to know there are other important things out there to consume and engage with? IS THAT ALL YOU WANT ME TO POST?”


I get it. Instagram is a visual platform.

But as it continues to evolve and integrate itself into our society and lives, we must evolve with it.

The fact is, we could spend forever exploring, discussing, and debating this entire article. We could endlessly research and test and dissect the best way to share a message that is both positive and visually appealing. I’d be happy to partake in any of those conversations! Respectfully, of course.

But as a starting place, I encourage you to think:

How are you scrolling?

How are you engaging with the content that you’re consuming?

How is your engagement with that content - or lack of it - encouraging others to post?

I’ll tell you this: by liking and commenting on photos of me and my body, you are encouraging me to post only photos of me and my body. And if I was building my instagram solely off likes and comments, it’d be all photos of me and my body. 

Will I post a photo of my body when I want to? Sure. Because it’s my body and I can do with it what I want.

Will it come from a place of promoting confidence and self love? Always.  

But a feed filled with images of my body simply for likes and comments? Never. 

Though, could I fall into that trap? Yep. 

Could you? Absolutely. 

Will you? That’s up to you to answer. 

What is your intention with social media? 

Why are you posting the things that you’re posting? 

How are you engaging with what you’re engaging with on social media? 

How is that affecting who you’re engaging with?

Social media is the world we now live in. It’s too fused into our lives to ignore how our engagement with it is affecting us and shaping our future.

Social media can be a beautiful thing if we make it such.

But we need to make that choice.

We have the power to make that choice.

Let’s scroll and post intentionally.

Much love,

Sarah ✌️💕🙏

Thank you to Danielle, Kara, Michelle + Garrett for your contributing thoughts - and to Maura Dickey for editing!

sarah gaines