Health advocate and fitness entrepreneur Kelsey Wells has a hefty 2.8 million sets of eyeballs on Instagram alone. With a further 2.5 million in her Facebook community, she commands a following bigger than the population of Oman.
Her rise to such renown has been a remarkable one. It is a journey facilitated by the social media boom of the past decade but driven, unquestionably, by her fervent desire to empower people through fitness.
“I did not open my social media accounts to gain a following,” Kelsey tells Livehealthy ahead of her appearance at the Dubai Active show. “I was in a really tough place in my personal life. I was going through postpartum anxiety and depression, but then I had a personal epiphany.
“For the first time in my life, as a 25-year-old new mom, I had started using exercise to help myself heal rather than try to change my body. It was a beautiful feeling and I started my Instagram really in a desperate attempt to connect with other women, as I felt like I could maybe help people who had gone through what I did.”
Kelsey’ anti-aesthetic message resonated with more people than she bargained for and six years later she is creating her own bespoke programmes for women’s fitness app, Sweat, with a focus is on the health benefits of lifting weights.
However with such a huge personal following, the 31-year-old trainer admits that the expectations can sometimes feel heavy.
“It is a big responsibility. I am obviously human and not perfect. I don’t want to take myself too seriously all the time but knowing that I do have an influence and that people are allowing me into their space — it is something that I am very grateful for but that I don’t navigate lightly.”
The term ‘influencer’ is a loaded one in 2021 and Kelsey is careful to avoid describing herself as one — chiefly because she doesn’t monetize her social media accounts.
“There is nothing wrong with the word and I have lots of friends who are influencers but I don’t call myself one, because you won’t ever see #ad or #sponsored on any of my posts. Again, I don’t have anything against it but so far it hasn’t felt authentic for me to do that.
“When I had around 60k followers, I remember someone approached me and wanted to pay me $500 to do an ad. My husband and I were grinding really hard, he was doing school and we were both working full time trying to make ends meet — I couldn’t believe I could make money like that.
“I did a couple of sponsored posts — one was for Jamba Juice I think — and I was so excited but I just knew straight away that it didn’t feel right. I needed that space to be my passion, my outlet and my safe space. Offers kept coming but I’ve always said ‘no thank you’.
“But I understand that I have influence and I want to be influential. Every time I put out content, I want to do it for the right reasons and from the right place. It is not a burden but a responsibility. I want to do my best with it.”
During the first throes of the Covid pandemic, social media became a key source of motivation for many, with online workouts inspiring people to remain active. In response to the needs of her own community, Kelsey added to her existing PWR and PWR at Home programmes with a new series called PWR Zero Equipment.
“Creating something that focuses on body weight exercise only isn’t something I originally set out to do because it is not my niche. But as a fitness professional, taking on that challenge was really important to me and I am proud of the way we did that.
“Social media enabled me to train women globally when we were all at home, which is amazing. However, I think it is important that we recognize that for many people it has been a really tough two years — mental health is at an all-time low. I really want people to know that it is okay to be struggling right now. It doesn’t mean you are not strong.”
Kelsey recognizes that social media is often a double-edged sword and advises that people on the platforms should be mindful in the way they use them.
“I’ve seen both sides and to be honest, I don’t actually use social media that much anymore. Yes I’ll go on to post and engage with my community but I’m certainly not spending my time scrolling endlessly. I’m super intentional — the most important thing is we only have control over what we do.
“How does social media impact you personally? That will fluctuate so if you are having a hard time, going on Instagram or any social media may make you feel worse about yourself than when you started. If that happens, I would take a break and unfollow every single account that makes you feel that way. And that includes me.
“I control what I put out there and I know I am posting from a genuine place, but I have no control over how that is perceived. If someone interprets my content in a way that is harmful to them and their mindset — I don’t want that and I don’t want them to see it. I won’t take it personally. As individuals it truly comes down to you having autonomy over the content you post and consume.”
Like many, Kelsey has been introspective through the pandemic but she is now ready to share some of what she has learned about herself. When she makes her first live appearance in two years at the Dubai Active exhibition at Dubai World Trade Centre next week, she will explore how mindfulness and weight training can coexist successfully.
“I tell people to use fitness to empower themselves and make sure you move out of gratitude or your body but how do you do that? I’m going to show people what that looks like in a session. That includes setting intentions, incorporating affirmations, and also taking that moment of gratitude afterwards.
“People know how I feel about our emotional and physical health not being separate. Mental health matters the most. It’s not necessarily a new dialogue for me or my community, however it will be the first time in a live setting like this that I make that my focus.”
• The Dubai Active exhibition takes place at Dubai World Trade Centre on October 28-30.
Mark is a Dubai-based writer who has couch-surfed through Ukraine, broken bread with football fans in Basra, and appeared on a boxing reality TV show in the UAE – all in pursuit of a good story. Or at least an average anecdote.