THE OTHER SIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media can be a fantastic platform for promotion, creativity and individuality. However, it can also provide the perfect breeding ground for bullying, sexual harassment and exploitation.
Stephanie Sanzo, who is also known as Steph Fit Mum on her social media platforms, has seen it all – from illicit photographs, through to messages of hate and fake accounts using her alias.
In 2012, Steph, a young mother of two children, decided to start focusing on her health and fitness. “I hated the gym, so I started running. It became the way to clear my head,” Steph said.
After seeing positive changes in her body from running and finding a hobby that would give her some well-needed time alone, Steph unfortunately suffered a collapse of her pelvic floor. She was devastated. She was no longer able to run or participate in any high-impact activities.
“I had been under-eating and my body was eating all the muscle I had … I was uneducated and unhappy,” she said.
After finally getting the okay from a doctor to start doing light cardio, Steph ventured into a gym to use the spin bikes. After a few weeks of watching what other people were doing in the weight section, she found the courage to test it out.
Each gym visit, Steph did a few more exercises with the weights and, over time, she started becoming more confident and began sharing photographs of her changing physique on her Instagram account.
“I started noticing people were liking the fitness-themed posts and my followers started growing, I even Googled how to make my followers grow and that’s when I stopped sharing personal things on my Instagram and started focusing on just fitness inspired posts,” she said.
Steph knew that if she wanted to make a change to her physique and lifestyle, she needed a helping hand, so she hired Geelong based fitness coach, Ingrid Barclay. Steph was now well on her way to competing in her first bikini model competition.
“Back then, I didn’t know much about what foods to eat, so it was good to have a coach who just gave me a list of what I should be doing … I listened to everything Ingrid said,” she said.
As Steph’s fitness-inspired photographs became more popular on her Instagram, she started receiving comments on her photos that were rude and often offensive. The comments were targeting Steph’s body shape, her family and things like her weight lifting techniques, so she decided to remove all posts that were focused on her private life, including photographs with her children in them.
“There are people out there with weird thoughts, creepy people, so I chose to promote my fitness. My kids don’t need to be on there anyway. People always comment on the photos asking me to put my kids up. It’s just unnecessary,” she said.
Steph now generates an income from her social media use. She promotes her business, her fitness and her lifestyle on Instagram, Snapchat, KIK and Facebook. But getting explicit videos and photos in her private account meant Steph had to reassess and she now only focuses on, and runs, her Instagram and Facebook accounts.
“Instagram isn’t as bad as the others, because you have to approve any messages before you can see them, so if I don’t trust them, I just delete them,” she said.
Steph’s partner Jamie Bisset, who is also the co-owner of the gym, Strong Geelong where Steph trains and works from, said: “Social Media is an abnormal world. Steph posts photos that show her physique in a tasteful way. She’s respecting herself and her family.”
In an industry such as health and fitness, there is a constant pressure to be ‘shredded’ and to have the ‘ideal’ physique. Steph said it could be exhausting trying to remain level headed and not get overwhelmed by all the comments and messages regarding her looks, training methods and her lifestyle.
Steph listens to motivating podcasts every morning while her kids are eating breakfast and she gets ready for work. “I also write motivational quotes on my mirror, I sometimes just read them if I need a boost,” she said.
Steph is a qualified personal trainer. After many years in the retail industry, fitness became Steph’s passion. She studied her certificate III and IV at VFA, in Geelong. Personal training was a move Steph says has benefitted her life immensely, especially because it fits in with her already busy schedule of being a mum.
“I promote 12 different products a week. It’s my business. My primary job is to advertise for my sponsors, then there is my personal training business which I run on the side because I enjoy it and I don’t promote it on social media.”
Now, five years into her career and on social media, Steph has learnt to deal with the negative comments that she receives on her posts. “If I see them, I delete them. I can’t let myself get overwhelmed by the negativity,” she said.
In January, Steph shared a video of Jamie, her partner, squatting 250kg, three times his body weight, which bought a lot of negative attention to her Instagram page. One person commented: “Stupid f*** has no idea how to lift properly. He’s going to have a brain aneurism and die.” Another wrote: “If Steph continues to post dumb s*** like this, then I will unfollow. I hit the follow button for the hot body, not for this or them recycled inspirational quotes. GOT IT?!?!”
“People can have their opinion, but if they are rude, then I get rid of it. It’s normally the men that have a problem with what I’m lifting, because I have a different technique or they are intimidated,” Steph said.
Thanks to social media, Steph is now considered a public figure in the fitness industry, with over 600,000 followers on her main Instagram account.
“Some comments are inappropriate, but some people just sit behind their keyboards and say it to make themselves feel better. I’m a sponsored athlete, I get to do what I love, every day, but the comments and the negativity is all part of it,” she said.
LITTLE FACTS ABOUT STEPH:
Instagram: @stephfitmum & @stephaniefitmum
Instagram accounts have a combined following of: 715,000.
Favourite exercise: “I’m enjoying squatting at the moment.”
Favourite supplement: “Coffee!”
Favourite song: “I don’t have a favourite song, it depends on what I’m training. Something heavy, like Amity Affliction if I’m deadlifting and something more electronic if I’m benching.”
Favourite gym accessory: “Resistance bands. You can do so much with them!”
Favourite café in Geelong: “The Paddock, it’s on the way to Ocean Grove, they do egg white omeletts for me!”
Weight personal records as of July 2017: “Squat – 130kg, Bench – 72.5kg, Deadlifts – 145kg. Each of these has been for a few reps.”
What’s planned for the near future: “We are going to America for Olympia later this year, Jamie and I are also moving into a new house and we are setting up a gym at home, which is where we will be filming heaps of our videos!”