Christchurch social media influencer, Ellie Haines, makes her living marketing products to her followers but taking on the body-shamers is part of the job

“Sometimes when someone says, what do you do?” says Ellie Haines, “I almost don’t want to say.”

The 29-year-old Cantabrian is an influencer, part of a multi-billion dollar global industry playing commercial havoc with traditional marketing avenues. She has around 66,400 Instagram followers, the vast majority of whom are women, and receives about 10-15 offers each week by brands wanting her to endorse or promote their products.

With a bubbly personality and contagious sense of humour, she seems born to the role.

“I love showing off, I love sharing. I have always been that person in class that just never shuts up. I am probably a try-hard comedian,” she tells Frank Film.

She began with a blog, a visual and unremitting story about her fight to lose weight –

“I was just obsessed with wanting to lose weight. I would share my breakfast, my lunch, my dinner on this website. No matter what I went through in life, I would share it. I would exercise – all the good stuff, all the healthy stuff, but I was really obsessed with it. I’ve always been a curvy girl but I’ve always thought I needed to be smaller to fit in with everyone else.”

The obsession to lose weight got to the stage where she wouldn’t eat meals: “I guess I wanted to vomit up food.”

This very public fixation came to a sudden halt when she saw the 2016 body-positive documentary Embrace by Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement. For the documentary, Brumfitt interviewed women around the world about their insecurities around body image.

When Haines got the opportunity to meet Brumfitt, the Australian writer and film director asked about her job. “I felt a bit of a dick. After watching this beautiful documentary about embracing who you are, I was going to go, ‘I promote weight loss’. It was like a click moment for me.”

That click, now seven years ago, marked the change from Losing Ellie’s Belly to Loving Ellie’s Belly, an Instagram page that pulls the plug on online body shaming.

“I wasn’t happy promoting weight loss. I had thought, if I was going to be skinnier I was going to be happier – but I wasn’t. So here we are today with Loving Ellie’s Belly and I embrace everything.”

There have been some hard lessons on the way.

“I can see how people can get trapped by the influencer industry. It is good money what the brands offer you but I’ve made one mistake where I went with a company I should never have aligned myself with. It was good money, but I didn’t investigate the company, I didn’t look into it. It backfired completely. I learned my lesson from that. Now I just work with five or six brands.”

But there are other risks that no amount of research can avoid.

“As weird as this sounds, I actually enjoy having a lower following than a higher following. Once your following increases, a lot more negativity and bullying can come with that.”

The messages have been brutal: you’re fat, you’re ugly, kill yourself.

“Crazy messages, all because I’m just a curvy girl online. I want to break the internet up a little bit and add a different voice, a different face, a different body, a different outlook – just be myself and hope that that will inspire other people to be themselves as well.”

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