Every time Jen Selter posts a picture on Instagram, she gets thousands of likes and comments within minutes. Selter has no formal fitness training, but that doesn’t seem to matter. What she does have is the ability to contort herself into plank-like positions, often in precarious locations, while provocatively sticking her yoga pant-covered rear end up in the air. She’s the physical embodiment of the mantra—which she and her fans repeat frequently—“hard work pays off.”
And it’s definitely paying off for her. Marketing herself as a source of workout motivation for women, Selter now has a mindboggling 3.3 million Instagram followers. Legacy Agency, which represents professional athletes, recently signed her as a fitness model, and just Wednesday, The New York Post named her their newest fitness columnist. She has appeared on The View and Good Morning America and was featured in a two-page spread in Vanity Fair. Her Twitter and Instagram feeds are peppered with what are presumably paid endorsements, and she even has her own hashtag, #seltering.
Selter’s meteoric rise in less than a year—including a steady flow of sponsorship deals—has inspired a legion of copycats who are eager to get in on what seems to be a new, potentially lucrative art form: the business of the butt selfie. A quick search around the web reveals a flurry of Selter imitators. Dedicated butt selfie Instagram pages—with names like Squat4DatBooty, Girls in Yoga Pants, and Squatspo—have popped up to collect the money shots, making it easier for hundreds of thousands of followers to ogle disembodied derrieres. While the asses may not all be exactly the same, the message definitely is: Work out to get a butt.
The likelihood that anyone else will be able to replicate Selter’s success, however, is small, despite the number of people trying to position themselves as her potential successor. Selter’s rise can’t easily be repeated: She did it first and in a unique way, with her #seltering poses.
“There’s limited appeal to seeing lots of different people doing it,” media psychologist Pamela Rutledge says of the rise of butt selfies. “The more other people do it, the less interesting it is.” Ryan Totka, a celebrity booking agent and founder of sports marketing company Athlete Promotions, agrees. “When something starts getting big, everyone jumps on the bandwagon and thinks they can do it. The first few people are the ones in high demand,” he says.
Whether they realize it or not, Selter’s imitators are only driving her stock higher in the marketplace.
Which is why newer so-called fitness models will need to find a way to make their marks beyond just knowing how to take a flattering butt shot. Amanda Lee, a 27-year-old L.A.-based personal trainer who has 106,000 Instagram followers, can be considered an entrepreneur in the butt selfie business. But in addition to plenty of close-ups of her squatting rear, because she says that’s what her clients and followers want, she also posts short workout videos. “Most of my female clients are young and they all come to me saying, ‘How do I make my butt bigger?’” Lee says.
Still, when she posts butt selfies, she says some commenters accuse her of copying Selter. “I would get some hate on that. They would say, ‘Oh, she’s a Jen Selter wannabe,’” Lee says. “I became aware of her around the same time my page started to get more popular.” Lee hopes her short workout video montages, which are also popular with her fans, become her signature. Currently, Lee makes a living primarily by training clients offline, but she now has a publicist and she’s been receiving offers to endorse products.
Selter, on the other hand, has turned her butt selfies—and the buzz they generate—into a veritable business. Some outlets have speculated that she makes up to $60,000 for Instagram posts endorsing products. But it’s unclear whether others in the field are able to collect similar fees. A few months ago, companies only offered Lee $50 to $100 per post to endorse products via images on her Instagram page.
Since Selter is the only one really making a living at booty shots right now, it’s difficult to predict the earning potential of belfie-preneurs. However, Rob Fishman, who is a co-founder of Niche, a start-up that he describes as a “LinkedIn” to connect social media creators with brands, says many Instagram and Vine personalities now make a “comfortable living.” Brands pay individual creators “in the hundreds to thousands of dollars for single posts.” Totka, the sports marketer, estimates that a social media or reality “celebrity” can earn $5,000 to $10,000 for a personal appearance, like the one Selter had planned in New Jersey last month.
Claire Fountain, 28, an up-and-coming yoga instructor, uses her Instagram account to enhance her offline brand by posting tasteful yoga butt selfies. Her account ballooned to over 100,000 followers in the last six months, and she is about to launch her own line of workout pants. She seems to understand the endgame, and scoffs at others she sees who post butt selfies without context. “At some point, it’s like, you have a following for what? What are you offering?” she says. “You have to look sexy but not push it too far. That’s a big part of my thing. You won’t see me just sticking my butt in the camera. It won’t ever be that direct.”
Those with belfie career ambitions should definitely consider what else they have to offer, besides a nice rear view. “I think being a one-trick pony is not the long game here,” Fishman says. “Being able to take some sort of gimmick and then expanding it to something more and really establishing a lasting connection with the fan base is what we see for people who are in this for the long haul.”
While Instagram’s fitness selfie stars can be successful, some wonder whether they should be. Despite Selter’s current ubiquity, Rutledge predicts that the social media star’s fame may be short-lived. “It’s going to have limited play,” she says. “It really plays into the worst of what the message is about why you should be famous…It will be interesting to see whether she survives this without becoming a joke.”
Some in the fitness industry wouldn’t necessarily be sorry to see the Instagram fitness selfie phenomenon die. Sandy Todd Webster, the editor in chief of IDEA Health and Fitness Association, warns consumers about taking advice from Instagram fitness celebs who don’t actually have any experience training anyone except themselves.
“Based on the high value we put on certification and continuing education for all fitness professionals, we are disturbed by this ‘certification by selfie’ phenomenon,” Webster says. “Having a great body and a great Instagram shot of that body really have nothing to do with being a solid, well-educated personal trainer.” However, Webster acknowledges that these Insta-trainers are apparently motivating people. “I don’t like it, but there’s something happening here that our industry needs to pay attention to,” she continues. “Maybe it’s a lesson about getting legitimate, certified personal trainers to understand that social media is a big part of the new economy and that they need to harness it.” Even if that means oiled-up booty shots.
What’s clear is that social media is no longer only just a fun distraction—it can literally be career-making. “I think one interesting facet is how these stars are ballooning without any real traditional [media] support,” Fishman says. “It’s not unusual to find someone with a million followers and then you Google them and there are only a handful of results.” So, if you’re searching for Internet fame and fortune, just find a different body part to focus on. With Jen Selter at the top, the butt’s moment is seemingly, ahem, behind us.