Meet Kayla Itsines, Aus­trala­sia’s new $46 mil­lion body

How does a 25-year-old fit­ness in­struc­tor amass a for­tune of $46 mil­lion? In­grid Pyne charts the rise and rise of Kayla Itsines.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

To most shop­pers at a food court across the Tas­man, Kayla Itsines looks like any other 25-year-old – al­beit an im­prob­a­bly toned and tanned one. Yet to the women and girls lin­ing up to see her wash­board abs in the flesh, the fit­ness guru is a demi-god­dess.

“I love her so much, she’s changed my life,” gushes Katie Lo­las.

“She’s so in­spi­ra­tional, she’s amaz­ing,” agrees Lisa Daw­son.

As Kayla – sport­ing her sig­na­ture pony­tail and gym gear – poses gamely for pho­tos, a mid­dle-aged woman, spy­ing my note­book, si­dles up. “Who is that?” she asks and, when I tell her, mut­ters, “Never heard of her.”

Un­less you hap­pen to be aged 16 to 28, are a health fa­natic, or have be­come ad­dicted to your so­cial me­dia feed, chances are you have never heard of Kayla ei­ther. Yet, at this par­tic­u­lar point in time, the pe­tite brunette could le­git­i­mately lay claim to be­ing one of Australia’s big­gest celebri­ties. The per­sonal trainer from Ade­laide has at­tracted mil­lions of fans on In­sta­gram and Face­book at a level never be­fore seen in the fit­ness world. At last count, she boasted a stag­ger­ing six mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers – four times that of Kylie Minogue, 30 times more than Elle Macpherson and 495 times more than Ju­lia Gil­lard.

She has punched her way onto busi­ness mag­a­zine BRW’s Young Rich List with an es­ti­mated $46 mil­lion for­tune, graced the cover of 10 women’s health mag­a­zines, been named among Time mag­a­zine’s 30 most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple on the in­ter­net (along­side Don­ald Trump and Kanye West) and won Cos­mopoli­tan’s Woman of the Year.

When Kayla takes her gru­elling boot camps on tour, thou­sands of devo­tees, from Los An­ge­les to

Lon­don, flock to her work­out ses­sions, squeal­ing as if at a boy-band con­cert and earn­ing Kayla such mon­ick­ers as the “Tay­lor Swift of push-ups” and the “One Di­rec­tion of the fit­ness world”.

So how has some­one be­come so fa­mous among girls of a cer­tain age with­out the rest of us hav­ing a clue who she is? To un­der­stand, we need to back­track seven years. Kayla, then 18 and freshly grad­u­ated from a per­sonal train­ing course at the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Fit­ness, was lead­ing classes at a women’s gym in Ade­laide. One

I felt bad I wasn’t able to help.

day, when her boss was away, she de­cided to ditch the pre­scribed pro­gramme and take the mostly older clien­tele through a cir­cuit of high­in­ten­sity ex­er­cises – burpees, leg lifts, push-ups, jumps, squats and sit-ups. They loved it.

Be­fore long, Kayla had her own stu­dio and was train­ing a posse of clients her way. She asked them to ex­er­cise hard, eat lean and take be­fore­and-af­ter pho­tos to track their progress. And then, be­ing a child of the 1990s, Kayla up­loaded these trans­for­ma­tion pic­tures to her In­sta­gram ac­count.

“I had a few girls start ask­ing me [via In­sta­gram], ‘Can you train me?’” Kayla tells The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly. “But they weren’t from South Australia, they were from other ar­eas of Australia, so I kept say­ing, ‘No, no, no.’ And I got re­ally up­set be­cause I felt re­ally bad that I wasn’t able to help them.”

En­ter To­bias “Tobi” Pearce, Kayla’s 24-year-old boyfriend and fel­low gym junkie, whom she met through Face­book. “Tobi said, ‘Why don’t you cre­ate an e-book for these girls?’” Kayla con­tin­ues. “So we cre­ated e-books to­gether and didn’t re­ally think any­thing would come of it.”

The first e-books, PDF ver­sions of Kayla’s 28-minute high-in­ten­sity work­out and healthy eat­ing plans, which were branded the Bikini

Body Guide (BBG), were re­leased in Jan­uary 2014. And, to Kayla’s sur­prise, some­thing did come of them: her so­cial me­dia pro­file ex­ploded. She has since added a best-sell­ing fit­ness app, Sweat with Kayla, a fo­rum and mer­chan­dise such as wa­ter bot­tles and sweat tow­els to her arse­nal.

It is, how­ever, dif­fi­cult to get a han­dle on how lu­cra­tive Kayla’s BBG em­pire is. The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly was in­structed that “ab­so­lutely no busi­ness-spe­cific ques­tions” were to be put to Kayla, in­clud­ing seem­ingly in­nocu­ous ones, such as how many em­ploy­ees she has, who her com­peti­tors are, or from where she de­rives most of her rev­enue. The re­search team at the BRW Rich List es­ti­mated Kayla and Tobi’s worth at AU$46 mil­lion (NZ$48.2 mil­lion), based on sales of their AU$69.97 Bikini Body Guide and Sweat with Kayla apps, which cost AU$54.99 for three months ac­cess or AU$19.99 a month – but we were banned from even try­ing to con­firm that fig­ure.

That said, the Bikini Body Train­ing Com­pany was im­pres­sive enough to pass muster with the judges of the pres­ti­gious Ernst & Young (EY) En­tre­pre­neur of the Year awards in 2015, when Kayla and Tobi were lauded for seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented through the in­ter­net’s bor­der­less mar­ket, and achiev­ing in a very short time-frame what many busi­nesses have been un­able to achieve in their en­tire life cy­cle.

“The EY En­tre­pre­neur of the Year pro­gramme is unique in that it en­ables us to un­earth and put the spot­light on busi­nesses that may be well known to some peo­ple, but com­pletely un­known to oth­ers,” EY Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Tony John­son tells The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly. “The Bikini Body Train­ing Com­pany was a case in point. I have to con­fess I hadn’t heard of this great busi­ness when I met Kayla and To­bias dur­ing the pro­gramme, and yet my daugh­ter was a devo­tee and dev­as­tated when I told her I had met Kayla and didn’t get an au­to­graph.”

And therein lies the Kayla celebrity co­nun­drum. Un­til now, she has ex­isted on­line in an al­ter­na­tive celebrity uni­verse, away from the world of books and tele­vi­sion that have be­come in­creas­ingly pe­riph­eral to the lives of Gen­er­a­tions Y and Z.

Yet one senses that Kayla is lim­ber­ing up for a full-scale as­sault on tra­di­tional me­dia – and, with it, an older gen­er­a­tion. On the morn­ing we meet, she has al­ready ap­peared on breakfast TV to of­fer up sum­mer health tips and she has just pub­lished a book, at the re­quest of her mum’s friends, who wanted some­thing tan­gi­ble that they could ac­tu­ally “touch and hold”. The re­sult is Kayla’s glossy, pink The Bikini Body 28-Day Healthy Eat­ing & Life­style Guide, full of nu­tri­tious recipes and in­struc­tions on lat­eral lunges, in­cline push-ups and dumb-bell squats.

Which brings us back to the food court in Sydney’s north­ern beaches. Kayla is here, on this sum­mer af­ter­noon, to sign copies of the book for her fans, who are fewer in num­ber than I’d been led to ex­pect (about 20 in to­tal), but no less fa­nat­i­cal.

Shop­pers paus­ing for a milk­shake or a box of hot chips throw con­fused looks at the large, cor­doned-off stage, where Kayla is pos­ing for pho­tos in front of crates filled with fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, at­tended by two hulk­ing body­guards.

The food court, with its ubiq­ui­tous fast food out­lets, seems an in­con­gru­ous set­ting for Kayla, who urges her fol­low­ers to be 100 per cent com­mit­ted to a healthy life­style. Yet Kayla seems right at home as she kisses and hugs her fans, and chats ef­fort­lessly to them about their health and fit­ness jour­neys.

“Kayla is such a great per­son, she’s just so au­then­tic,” Tobi tells me. “She’s very dif­fer­ent to other peo­ple who have such a huge fol­low­ing. She’s not fo­cused on ‘Look at me’. She’s more fo­cused on her fol­low­ers and what they are do­ing.”

In­deed, Kayla seems ut­terly gen­uine, sweet and hum­ble in a gee-shuck­show-did-this-all-hap­pen-to-me kind of way. Yet it soon be­comes ap­par­ent that her ev­ery­girl im­age is strictly con­trolled. She has two pub­li­cists on hand to closely mon­i­tor any ques­tion put to her and, when I try to in­ter­view Tobi (with his ap­proval), I am quickly shut down by one of the pub­li­cists, who in­forms me in pretty clear terms that I don’t have her ap­proval. Which begs the ques­tion: what do they have to hide? Well, not much, it seems. Kayla was

born on May 21, 1991, the elder of two daugh­ters to Anna, a teacher’s aide who helped out at Kayla’s pri­mary school, and Jim, a teacher of English as a sec­ond lan­guage. Her 21-year-old sis­ter Leah, also a per­sonal trainer, is her best friend. Their child­hood sounds bliss­ful.

“My mum is the most lov­ing and help­ful per­son you can ever find and my dad is just in­cred­i­ble. They never fought,” Kayla says. “They would do any­thing for you. If I was late for my home­work, my dad would stay up till 11pm to help me. I grew up in the best fam­ily – not with a lot of money, but with a tonne of love… so I al­ways felt rich. I never had a mishap. I don’t have a sob story. Tobi says I lived in a bub­ble.”

Her partnership with Tobi, from both a ro­man­tic and com­mer­cial per­spec­tive, seems no less idyl­lic. “Tobi is the most amaz­ing per­son with the most amaz­ing ideas,” Kayla gushes.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in the po­si­tion I am to­day. He has an in­cred­i­ble mind. We work re­ally strongly to­gether as a team and play to our strengths and never step on each other’s toes.”

Par­lay­ing a trou­ble­free, love-filled child­hood into a trou­ble-free, love-and-cash-filled adult­hood does not make for the most riv­et­ing of pro­files. Yet it soon be­comes ap­par­ent that Kayla is ac­tively push­ing her bland­ness. Prior views such as “Al­co­hol is poi­son” have been wa­tered down to “I do not pro­mote or con­done it, but if you were hav­ing a wine right now, I wouldn’t tell you to put it down. It’s up to the in­di­vid­ual.”

The “bikini body” her guides es­pouse is not ac­tu­ally about hav­ing a bikini body, she tells me now, but about health, strength and “be­ing bikini body con­fi­dent, it’s about how you feel about your body”.

When I at­tempt to ask her about her en­dometrio­sis, which she has spo­ken openly about in pre­vi­ous in­ter­views, her pub­li­cist blocks the ques­tion. It is clear Kayla is not keen to be­come the poster girl for any par­tic­u­lar cause.

And therein lies the ge­nius in Kayla’s mar­ket­ing. Rather than putting her­self front and cen­tre, she uses her fol­low­ers’ dra­matic be­fore-and-af­ter pic­tures to evan­ge­lise her brand and en­gage new fans. For if you can’t re­late to Kayla – with her su­per­model slight frame, flaw­less tan and shaped brows – then per­haps you can re­late to @kathgets­fit, @miss­lozzy­bird or any of the other two mil­lion In­sta­gram users who have up­loaded their trans­for­ma­tion pho­tos af­ter fol­low­ing Kayla’s high-in­ten­sity work­outs and diet ad­vice.

And so, un­usu­ally in the world of so­cial me­dia, where over­shar­ing is com­mon (if not com­pul­sory), Kayla’s In­sta­gram con­tains scant de­tails of her life. Images of Kayla her­self are scat­tered through many be­fore-andafter shots of her fans, mo­ti­va­tional say­ings and pic­tures of her Siberian huskies, Ace and TJ. She of­ten cuts off her face in these pic­tures and has never posted her own “be­fore” photo.

“It’s re­ally about not mak­ing the page specif­i­cally about me and my body – what I eat and what I do,” Kayla ex­plains. “It’s about their sto­ries and them hav­ing a re­lat­able story for some­one else. So you can see El­lie from Amer­ica and her story about how her hus­band passed away, and some­one in the world will re­late to it.”

The mo­men­tum just keeps on build­ing. “As girls see my page, they feel com­fort­able shar­ing their sto­ries be­cause they are see­ing, say, a girl who has come back from post-natal de­pres­sion, and an­other mother thinks, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one, I must send Kayla my story.’ It has started this big


FROM TOP LEFT: Kayla is hon­oured by Cos­mopoli­tan; Tobi and Kayla with their EY award for en­trepreneur­ship; and the cou­ple re­ceive their Guin­ness World Records cer­tifi­cate for the most num­ber of peo­ple do­ing var­i­ous ex­er­cises at once in Mel­bourne in Novem­ber. FROM ABOVE LEFT: Kayla with par­ents Anna and Jim; with sis­ter Leah; with her grand­par­ents; and her pet Siberian huskies Ace and TJ.

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