Selfie made women

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Lindy Alexander

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Sunday Life - Base Body Babes

Behind the scenes on the Sunday Life Base Body Babes shoot.

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The formula is straightforward. Take a stunning backdrop of white sand and azure water, a toned body in the latest workout gear and a life-affirming motto such as: "There is no better feeling than I made it!"

Then add in shots of "clean" food such as green smoothies, raw treats made from dates and coconut, and anything featuring kale and you have fitness inspiration, Instagram style, known as "fitspo".

Instagram has more than 300 million active users, predominantly urban women under 35. And in this world where image is everything, there is a group of models, athletes and personal trainers making a very nice living promoting products or brands while also showing off their perfectly toned butts.

Former pole vaulter Amanda Bisk began using Instagram to document her journey back to health.

Former pole vaulter Amanda Bisk began using Instagram to document her journey back to health. Photo: Adam Dunne

Whether these images are inspirational, though, is up for debate, with a 2014 Flinders University study of 130 women finding many felt intimidated and less positive about themselves after being shown Instagram images of slim, athletic women with motivational sayings attached to their photographs.

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And there are some on Instagram who poke fun at the fitspo trend, and its accompanying hashtags like #strongnotskinny and #prettygirlsweat, with quips like, "Exercising for just 10 minutes a day raises your risk of posting inspirational quotes by 60 per cent."

Fitspo may be an irony-free zone but it's hard not to admire the business nous of the reigning queens.

Bohemian yoga chic: Rachel Brathen.

Bohemian yoga chic: Rachel Brathen. Photo: Ali Kaukas

Roxy Jacenko, whose agency The Ministry of Talent represents bloggers and social media identities, says fitspo personalities can earn "anything from $2500 for a once-off Instagram post ... to tens of thousands [of dollars] to be a paid ambassador."

And at the end of the day, they are not slaving away in a fluro-lit office but getting paid to do yoga or run on a beach. All power to them.

@yoga_girl

Bianca Cheah had a cult following within a year.

Bianca Cheah had a cult following within a year. Photo: Emily Abay

Rachel Brathen

1.6 million followers

"You have to do the work. No one is going to do it for you. Don't hold back."

Sisters Diana Johnson and Felicia Oreb, queens of sassy selfies.

Sisters Diana Johnson and Felicia Oreb, queens of sassy selfies.

Mission statement: "I travel all around the world leading retreats, teaching workshops and doing my best to inspire people to follow their dreams." 

How it started: As a rebellious teenager, Rachel Brathen, a native of Sweden, found refuge from a troubled family life in meditation and yoga. Five years ago, she started teaching yoga on the Caribbean island of Aruba. Initially, she didn't have a plan for her Instagram account. "I was just posting pictures of my dogs," Brathen, 26, says. "Then I started posting pictures of me doing handstands and my following grew."

The look: Bohemian yoga chic – tropical flowers often adorn Brathen's blonde hair as she practises yoga against the blue skies, white sand and sparkling water of the Caribbean.

Base Body Babes Diana Johnson and Felicia Oreb.

Base Body Babes Diana Johnson and Felicia Oreb. Photo: Steven Chee

Getting the look: "Now I have more chances to work with talented photographers, but mostly I take photos on my phone," Brathen says. "I never Photoshop or edit my photos. I get the biggest response to natural pictures. People can tell if it's orchestrated.

"It's so easy for Instagram to turn into a highlight reel, with everyone showing off how amazing their lives are: perfect angles of amazing food, everyone is fit and travelling all the time. But no one ever shares the in-between stuff. I try to do that, even if I have a bad day. That's the most important connection [with your followers] you can make."

The business end: Brathen says she makes "a very good living" from teaching yoga and leading retreats from Thailand to Costa Rica. She sells "bracelet stacks" for $65 a pop on her website and her book, Yoga Girl is on the New York Times best-seller list.

Despite being approached by soft-drink companies and car manufacturers, Brathen refuses to align herself with brands that don't reflect her lifestyle.

"I know some people on Instagram promote products and that's their only income. But I couldn't talk about the importance of being authentic and end it with, 'Don't forget you get 15 per cent off these yoga pants, so buy now!' "

@basebodybabes

Diana Johnson and Felicia Oreb

562,000 followers

"Don't follow your dreams. Chase them."

Mission statement: "No fad diets, no starving, no fancy training techniques and no fluff."

How it started: After the birth of her first child four years ago, Felicia Oreb, 31, started running boot camps for mothers in Sydney. Her sister Diana Johnson, 30, a former primary school teacher, joined her and Base Body Babes was born. "We started out at a park with mums, but soon women of all ages were coming," says Johnson. What started as a simple personal training business has grown into an empire, incorporating a gym, cafe and online training business.

The look: The Base Body Babes are queens of artful and sassy selfies - arms raised over heads in victory poses, sisterly hugs in crop tops and skimpy shorts, skipping ropes draped over shoulders and colour-matched gear.

Getting the look: Many of the pictures of Oreb and Johnson involve a professional photographer, hair and make-up artist and stylist. The sisters style and shoot all their own food and "flatlays" of workout clothing. (It helps that Oreb has a degree in interior design and an expert curatorial eye.)

The business end: As their number of followers has ballooned to more than half a million, the sisters have been approached by many brands. "We only align with companies that we truly love and believe in," says Oreb. These include Stylerunner, Nike, Adidas, C Coconut Water and Body Science. But the sisters' main revenue is from the online training and nutrition plans they offer, starting at $150 a month.

"Our followers are our customers," says Oreb. "They are the people who purchase our online packages and train with us."

@amandabisk

Amanda Bisk

399,000 followers

"It's cool to run, sweat and get messy while you are working out, and that's great!"

Mission statement: "To encourage people to lead a healthy, active and inspired life."

How it started: "I was a competitive gymnast and track and field athlete during school until I found my calling as an elite pole vaulter," says Amanda Bisk, who is based in Perth.

While she was training for the 2012 London Olympics, her health and energy deteriorated. After being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, Bisk started using Instagram in 2013 as a way to document her journey back to exercise and full health.

"Since the start of my Instagram journey, I have seen so many girls and women realise their potential to feel confident and attractive because they are strong and fit, not because they are skinny," the 29-year-old says. "By sharing fitspo images, women are showing they are proud of the work they put in and that they care about their bodies and health."

The look: Dynamic athleticism in the great outdoors – Bisk's long limbs are regularly pulled into jaw-dropping, super-bendy yoga poses.

Getting the look: No make-up artists or stylists are used for Bisk's Instagram images. Most of the time, she says, she is hot and sweaty when the photo is taken. Her partner Adam takes the majority of the shots.

The business end: Bisk works with Adam to create and sell online fitness programs, which encourage people to pull on workout gear, get sweaty and update Bisk on their progress via Instagram and Facebook.

"There is a wonderful community involved in my programs," she says. "[Instagram] is an incredible way to connect to a variety of people."

Other sources of income include teaching yoga classes and offering personal training programs.

@biancamaycheah

Bianca Cheah

103,000 followers

"Sometimes you just need to breathe. Trust. Let go. And see what happens."

Mission statement: "Every woman deserves to feel radiant, nourished and happy."

How it started: Spotting a gap in the market for a luxury wellbeing website, Queensland-born Bianca Cheah, 34, launched a blog in 2012 dedicated to health and fitness. Within a year, Sporteluxe had a "cult following" and the digital publication now employs five full-time staff and regularly commissions more than 25 contributors.

Her decision to separate Sporteluxe from her personal brand was deliberate. "People can follow me personally or Sporteluxe, which is news-related and expert-driven." Cheah has a background in modelling, media, interior design and IT, and is a qualified yoga teacher.

The look: The life you want - sun streaming through palm trees, cute shoes on Parisian tiles, long, tousled bed hair and sunsets on the beach.

Getting the look: The images on Cheah's Instagram, which she says give her followers a daily insight into her life, are a mix of photos she takes with her phone and others taken by professional photographers. "I don't use a make-up artist or stylist unless I'm working with a brand and they want to achieve a certain look," she says. "The photo shoot images on my Instagram are generally edited by the photographers, but [with mine] what you see is what you get."

The business end: Cheah is an ambassador for Sukin and has worked with Country Road, Deep Spring, Nike and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

She believes that social media has changed the way companies approach marketing. "Instagram has given brands a platform to directly connect with their customers," she says. 

Diana and Felicia wear shirts by Marcs. Diana (left) wears bikini bottoms by Marysia. Felicia (right) wears bikini bottoms by Bec & Bridge. Styling by Penny McCarthy. Hair by Richard Kavanagh. Make-up by Charlie Kielty.