Fitness Trainer Faked Instagram Photo, and the Internet Freaked Out

The reactions to Cassey Ho’s photo ranged from ‘perfect body’ to ‘still too fat’ to ‘anorexic.’
Apr 21, 2015·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Cassey Ho can’t be fooled by Photoshop. The same can not be said of her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers.

Ho, the 28-year-old YouTube personality behind the Blogilates fitness brand, helped spark a national backlash against Target last year when she criticized a badly photoshopped bikini photo on the retailer’s website. The image, which was digitally altered to widen the gap between the model’s thighs by removing a noticeable chunk of her female anatomy, went viral after Ho blogged about it last March, eventually causing Target to remove it from the website altogether, citing a “photo editing error.”

Ho exerted her influence as a Photoshop watchdog again this week—this time by using herself as the badly cropped model. In a controversial image posted to Instagram, Ho increased the negative space between her thighs, slimmed her waist, and enlarged her breasts, creating a caricature of herself based on the comments she says she receives regularly on Instagram.

“I tried to make my boobs bigger and stuff, and the most surprising thing is that people thought it was real,” she says, admitting she’s not a great photoshopper to begin with. “I really think that the people saying ‘body goals’—they must have been like 12 or 14 [years old].”

A photo posted by Cassey Ho (@blogilates) on

The obviously photoshopped image was intended to critique the notion of a “perfect body,” but that commentary was lost on many of Ho’s Instagram fans, who told her she looked amazing and used the hashtag #goals to suggest that they aspired to look like her. Other commenters told Ho she was “still too fat.” Still others said she looked anorexic.

Ho says the huge range of totally disparate comments illustrated exactly the type of body shaming she was trying to bring awareness of. The image, which served as a kind of social experiment that Ho revealed to her fans in an Instagram post the next day, also functioned as a marketing tool; it was a teaser for her new YouTube video, a clever PSA that uses digital effects to address the negative impacts of cyberbullying and body shaming.

“I think within the last few months, it’s been more intense—and a lot more girls have been more focused on inner thigh gaps and really big butts,” she says. “I think sometimes people feed off one another, but I think as a whole, girls are becoming more obsessed with their bodies.”

A full-time health and fitness personality with more than 2 million YouTube subscribers, Ho has developed a loyal following of body-conscious women and girls who are hoping to gain inspiration and lose weight from videos such as 5 Minute Long Lean Legs and 30 Day Slimming Challenge. Fifty-seven percent of American women polled by Gallup in 2013 said they wanted to lose weight—39 percent reported being overweight—and blogs like Ho’s have cropped up in recent years to serve would-be health enthusiasts. But some have been accused of promoting unrealistic body ideals.

In 2012, Ho caught flak for creating a pamphlet called How to Get a Thigh Gap before realizing that it could be “taken out of context” as promoting an unhealthy body image. Today she says her fitness books, videos, and DVDs focus on “the change or transformation within yourself, whether that is physical or just motivational or whatever.”

It's a message that increasingly seems to resonate with her young fans. This month saw the release of her first book, Cassey Ho’s Hot Body Year-Round, which was published by Penguin Random House, and last year her first workout DVD hit the shelves at Target—the store where her anti-photoshopping crusade first began.