This social media star lost 63,000 followers when she started posting body-positive messages

WATCH: Sophie Gray, a fitness expert and social media star from Edmonton, lost 63,000 followers on Instagram after she said she started showing her 'real' self.

By now, we all know that the photos people post on social media are rarely a reflection of their real lives. But when one Edmonton-based social media star switched out her fitspo (or fitness inspiration) posts for make-up-free selfies and body-positive messages in an effort to be “real,” she lost 63,000 followers.

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Sophie Gray, the 23-year-old behind the Instagram page WayOfGray, never intended on being a fitspo influencer. But at the height of her reign as a fitness expert, when shots of her chiselled abs and workout videos proliferated her page, she had 430,000 followers.

Once she switched gears, and started to write body positive posts and put up pictures of her (only slightly) less toned body, she says her followers plummeted.

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it's time to @divethru_ "You need to put on some mascara, Sophie." "A colourful lipstick is all you need, Sophie." "Brush out your hair. It's a mess, Sophie." "Don't wear that. It doesn't compliment your figure, Sophie." "Watch your mouth, Sophie." "You should really try this acne cream, Sophie." "Smile more, Sophie." "Don't wear that. You'll send out the wrong message, Sophie." "Show a bit more skin, Sophie." "Don't get bangs. They won't work for your face shape, Sophie." "You need to use concealer under your eyes, Sophie." "Be more authentic, Sophie." "That's so weird, Sophie." "You should workout harder if you want to reach your goals, Sophie." "Shush, Sophie." "Speak up. It's rude to just sit there, Sophie." "Don't worry what other people think, Sophie." How are these words shaping who you are?

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“People don’t want to see something real or be confronted with reality on social media,” she tells Global News. “But I knew I was fuelling a distraction from life and from what is real.”

Her foray into the world of fitness influencing wasn’t premeditated. Gray says she started her Instagram page in 2013 when she was modelling and intended to use it as a portfolio. But when followers started to ask her what she did and ate to stay fit, she took some personal training and nutrition courses, and branded herself as a fitness expert.

It was a space where the self-professed “uncool kid at school” felt comfortable and accepted. But a fateful trip from New York to Toronto in June 2016 showed her that her Instagram life was only a facade.

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it's time to @divethru_ This is what self care can look like. Self care isn't only reserved for those who have the privilege of attending a yoga retreat in the jungle. It's not only for those who regularly go for massages. You don't need to lock yourself away in a day spa. Self care isn't one single activity. It's simply making time for you. Today I took a long shower, ate this dairy free ice cream thingy and watched Fifty Shades of Grey. Some days I drive with the radio turned off and repeat positive affirmations. Other days I go for walks with my dogs – and sometimes I do go on tropical vacations or get massages. This photo clearly isn't Instagram Fabulous – but it is real. I want to remind you that you can make time for yourself on the regular – and you are deserving of it. So, go out there and take care of yourself. Go for a walk, take a long shower, sing in your car, read a book, cry, practice yoga, go to Costa Rica.. just do something that allows you to care for your incredible self! 😘

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“I had been travelling a lot for work, and although I didn’t have a problem with travel, I didn’t always want to be on-the-go. I was on a flight from New York to Toronto when I had a panic attack,” she said. “It was an accumulation of four years of rejecting who I was and what I care about, and my body just said, ‘no, you can’t pretend anymore.’ I ended up having to drive to Edmonton from Toronto because I couldn’t get back on a plane.”

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It was at that point that Gray shifted her mission from fitspo to body positivity. Now she posts “real” pictures of herself with body-positive messages that are meant to help people be comfortable with themselves. She has re-branded herself as a coach and an all-around cheerleader for women, and offers coaching and programs to help people accept and connect with themselves.

Her posts are littered with uplifting missives like, “I want you to love yourself,” and she encourages women to pass these positive messages on to one another.

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it's time to @divethru_ I just shared an Instagram Story of me eating crackers with hummus. Why? Well, because people eat crackers and aren't always doing something cool. Earlier today I caught myself feeling bad about myself because I don't have super cool stuff to share on my profile. But, honestly.. whatever. I love my life. I love cuddling my dogs. I love watching Netflix. I love being in my pyjamas by 8 PM every night. I have spent 22 years of my life trying to fit in. I have changed who I am in hopes of being accepted by others. I have always viewed myself as not enough simply because I'm different. If this sounds familiar.. please know that you don't need to be anyone other than yourself to be happy. You can love and accept yourself without changing who you are. Please know that. So, whether you love grabbing cocktails on your Friday nights or are curled up on your couch – know that that's okay. It's okay to be you.. it's actually more than okay, it's really really awesome. 📸 @mandydaaawn

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She’s quick to point out, however, that her new mantra is in no way meant to convey that healthy living and fitness aren’t important.

“My mission is: ‘I want you to accept the fit out of yourself,'” she said. “I’m not advocating that people eat bad food and sit around. I still eat properly and workout; I just do it from a place of acceptance now.”

As for her lost followers, Gray says she understands why they don’t follow her anymore but she hopes that they’re focusing on people who are sending the right message.

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it's time to @divethru_ Hi, I'm Sophie. I'm 22 and I love dogs. My boyfriend is pretty awesome and I'm an auntie to an adorable baby girl. I watch Netflix 7 days a week and sometimes I exercise. I love cookies and muffins…and eat them regularly. I recently decided to love and cherish myself. It hasn't been easy, but it's worth it. Sometimes I have panic attacks and other times I can't contain my excitement. I cry easily and get quite irritable around my period. I have scars on my wrists from my own doing and I'm still working on loving that side of me. I want you to love your entire self. I want you to love every scar, pimple, stretch mark and bit of skin. I want you to look in the mirror and be happy who's looking back. I want you to love yourself. Andddddd, that's all I have to say today!

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“I get it. My mission is not about getting validation. But I hope did it because they were no longer interested and not because they’re avoiding themselves,” she says. “And I hope who they’re following now doesn’t make them feel terrible about themselves, because a lot of people don’t realize how their images can make others feel.”

WATCH BELOW: Sophie Gray had more than 400,000 followers on Instagram alone as a fitness influencer online – but when she changed gears to promote body positive messages, she lost many of them. Sarah Kraus reports.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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