Like any other University of Richmond student in desperate need of a caffeine fix, senior Hannah Campbell waited at the register in 8:15 at Boatwright, ready to order her usual black coffee.
Nothing was out of the ordinary, until she heard her name echoing from across the cafe.
“One of my friends came up to me when I was ordering, and she was like, ‘Can you just come meet one of my friends really quickly,’” Campbell said.
Campbell said she was introduced to a student she had never met, who quickly revealed she was a huge fan and follower of Campbell’s Instagram. Starstruck, she gushed about how cool and inspiring she found Campbell.
“I was like, does she know that it’s just me right now?” Campbell said, unable to believe her celebrity-like status on campus.
This student, like many of Campbell’s other followers, knows Campbell best by her Instagram handle, @hannahelisefit. Campbell shares workouts, healthy meals, inspirational quotes and more with over 5,000 followers. She started her fitness Instagram in the summer of 2018.
Campbell said she had first started sharing her fitness journey on Instagram to take accountability for herself. When she was going through a rough patch freshman year and found herself getting anxious, the gym was where she took a lot of her stress out, Campbell said.
“Resistance training felt like I was resisting against this pressure to turn to food for comfort and wallow in my anxiety,” Campbell said. “It made me resist against outside pressures and negative self talk and all of that.”
She said she started recording her workouts so she could watch her routines to motivate herself to exercise.
“When I was in my bed and I didn’t feel like going, I could look at it and go ‘I did this yesterday,’" Campbell said. “I felt great yesterday, and I’m going to do it again.”
This was just the launching point, and her Instagram account quickly evolved into something bigger. Campbell said a friend had pointed out the fact that she was one of the only girls to venture into the second floor of UR’s gym for heavy lifting.
“I thought about it and I was like, 'You know what, that’s so true,'” Campbell said. “Whenever I’m up there, there’s only like one other girl. And I know it’s not because girls don’t want to be up here. I know it’s because it’s uncomfortable.”
Campbell said this uncomfortable feeling stemmed from the lifting area of the gym being so male-dominated. She wondered whether girls would feel more comfortable if they could learn how to use the gym equipment and replicate her movements by watching her Instagram videos. She recognized that other people already post this kind of content on Instagram, but thought it would be helpful if UR girls could see someone from their own school doing it, she said.
Campbell said that having a fitness account sometimes attracted some creepy bot accounts that posted weird things in the comments of her Instagram posts, and she has blocked around 800 to 900 accounts as a result.
It’s a lot harder to block someone in real life.
Although Campbell said she had great male and female workout partners at UR, she recalled feeling self-conscious when she found out a guy on the machine behind her had been pretending to use his phone, but was actually videoing her squatting.
“I think it’s really brave and courageous to be posting all of this stuff on her Instagram,” said senior Kirsten Saleh, a friend and Instagram follower of Campbell. “It kind of affects how people perceive you. So if you look at the average college student versus her profile, they are very different.”
This summer, Campbell took her fitness journey a step further by competing in National Physique Committee bikini competitions, where competitors are judged based on muscularity, condition, symmetry and balance and presentation, according to the NPC website.
“It’s pretty much just about leaning down as much as possible and still maintaining all of your muscles,” Campbell said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I have control over my body, that if I set a goal for myself I can do it, and like anything really is achievable if I put my mind to it.”
After competing this summer, Campbell won first place in the open division, becoming a nationally qualified bikini athlete. By succeeding at a national show, Campbell said, you can get sponsorships from big companies and have the chance to go professional.
“What she’s doing is so unique and exciting,” said senior Katie Fell, another friend and follower of Campbell. “And the fact that she’s bringing people along with her makes her account really engaging and fun to follow.”
Although there is no strict definition of a micro influencer, it is generally someone who has between 1,000 to 100,000 followers and focuses on a specific or niche area where they are considered to be an expert, according to a CMSWire article.
“Micro influencer, no!” Campbell said, laughing. “I just have a couple thousand followers on Instagram, and I like to put up some workout videos here and there … but I have something I’m passionate about. I’m sharing it, and it’s motivating people to do it themselves.”
Campbell said she would share on her Instagram whenever she had content that she thought was valuable, whether it be a 14-minute question-and-answer video on IGTV or a quote she liked on her story. Her captions on posts are long and detailed. She gets excited to share her thoughts and goes back to edit later.
“I think her personality really shines through on Instagram,” Fell said. “I think that’s one of the reasons she is starting to get traction on her account, because she’s so authentic and so herself. She really makes an effort to let her personality shine through and not just show the exciting and glamorous elements of fitness and bodybuilding.”
Saleh reiterated Fell’s sentiments, saying the ways Campbell talked in person and online were very much the same. Campbell is always dishing out compliments and supporting other people, whether face-to-face or digitally.
Currently, Campbell said she was at home, taking online nutrition courses and continuing her fitness journey. She is planning to return to UR in the spring to graduate with her communications major.
“I’d sit in my sociology classes and be researching nutrition stuff,” Campbell said. “And I was like, ‘I’m wasting this education right now. I don’t feel right about it.’”
Although Campbell said she wanted to continue using Instagram, she could potentially see YouTube as a channel for a future career. Because she loves to talk and is not very concise, she thinks a platform made for longer videos could prove beneficial, she said.
But for now, anyone can find her on Instagram. As she puts it herself in her bio, Campbell is just getting warmed up.
Contact contributor Sydney Charlton at firstname.lastname@example.org.