Instagrammer Sophie Gray used to share her posts about self-love alongside photos of her toned abs. But she started to question the message she was sending to women.
“I always talked about loving yourself but the messages were attached with fitness photos — so they had the underlying theme of ‘but look like this.’ ” Gray, 23, tells PEOPLE. “Of course, it wasn’t my intention to put that on people — but looking back, that’s what came through.”
The Edmonton-based Gray, who originally started her account as a modeling portfolio, realized that it was time to shift the page to better represent how she felt about health and wellness.
“For a couple years I was starting to resent the message and lost my passion for it,” she says. “In June of 2016 I had a panic attack on a flight from New York to Toronto and ended up driving home 38 hours to Edmonton. In that drive I had to face myself and my truth and realized that the direction of the account was hurting my mental wellbeing and those of my followers.”
She was concerned that her page was unintentionally harmful “fitspo.”
“I believe we all have to take accountability for our own emotions, but that doesn’t stop women and young girls from using my photos as unrealistic goals.”
But her old photos still pop up on fitspo accounts from time to time, and it happened again in July. This time, Gray reposted the photo and called out the body shaming message they tried to send.
“I was just fed up,” she says. “I’m sick of this message being promoted that thinness equals happiness and fitness is the path to loving yourself. I have been down that path, and it isn’t — so I want to ensure that my face isn’t being associated with the absolute and complete lie that is.”
Gray’s followers agreed, and applauded her for taking a stand.
“I think it’s pretty clear that people are becoming more and more aware of the garbage,” she says of her followers and Instagram users. “People want real, not photoshopped. That being said, there’s still a long way to go and I hope I can help people realize how amazing they are.”
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And Gray, who now runs her site Way of Gray full-time to spread her message of self-love, wants people “to accept the s— out of yourself.”
“I want people to be stoked to be who they are,” she says. “I want them to be proud of themselves and know, on the deepest level, that they’re deserving of love and acceptance, exactly as they are.”