When fitness blogger Ashy Bines exploded onto the online sphere, few could predict how divisive her success would be.
Immediately, her taut tummy and blonde braids seemed to sell a promise – ‘do-as-I-say-to-look-how-I-look’.
Of course, when Bines fell onto our radar when fitness wasn’t yet a commodity, and social media was a land of blurry selfies – not brand building. We had no blueprint for what it meant to be an online success. The messy overlap between being a ‘fitness blogger’ and promoting health advice to the public quickly became problematic, and with that, so too did the brand of Ashy Bines.
However, ask the company about its controversies and they’ll tell you – as they told News Corp this week – that they are “an open book with nothing to hide”.
Bines, who has a combined social media following of more than five million, sells fitness programs, diet guides, athletic apparel, supplements and an app to willing subscribers.
If nothing else, for Bines, it’s been a dramatic few years. These are just a few of the reasons her name has featured in headlines since her business went global.
Food blogger sues, alleges plagiarism
On Wednesday, food blogger and 26-year-old Brisbane mum Allie Dodds expressed her intent to sue the fitness star for more than $150,000 in damages, alleging Bines lifted a number of recipes and photos from her blog.
Dodds, who runs a blog called Mealspiration, accuses Bines of stealing at least five of her recipes and publishing them in a 2012 e-book.
In 2015, Bines addressed the furore surrounding stolen recipes in a YouTube video.
“As a business woman, I often outsource projects to experts and people better qualified to give you the best information,” Bines said at the time.
“Unfortunately, I may have been too naive to think that I wouldn’t have to check the origins of each recipe.
“It’s recently come to my attention that some of these recipes were not originals at all, and have been copied from other sources. This was never my intention and it really sucks that these things can happen.”
Mamamia has reached out to Ashy Bines for comment.
Costumer complaints of being over-charged
Earlier this week, News Corp published a report alleging Ashy Bines’ program had been over-charging customers.
The news outlet reported more than eight customers had contacted them, claiming they had been paying for programs “they were later denied access to” and “others who say their criticisms or feedback posted online had been censored by staff”.
In response, a spokesperson for the company told News Corp, “out of the hundreds of thousands of happy and long term customers, sometimes the loudest are a very small percentage that may not be happy with the service or those that have not read the Terms and Conditions when signing up/purchasing.
“Our T and Cs are clearly laid out and accessible on the appropriate website and in the Apple and Android App stores. A number of the concerns raised seem to be centred around misinformation without all of the facts of each individual customer/purchase.”
It’s not the first time the brand has been forced to defend itself against accusations of over-charging customers. In 2016, Fairfax reported a number of customers were being charged as much as $40 monthly after cancelling their subscription.
However, it should be noted that the Ashy Bines program isn’t the only fitness juggernaut to be accused of over-charging customers and deleting subsequent complaints from public social media channels. In 2017, Mamamia reported Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT app was dodging similar customer complaints.
The never-ending lawsuit with Emily Skye
Late last year, Bines and her husband Steven Evans re-ignited their years-long feud with fellow fitness queen Emily Anderson, popularly known as Emily Skye.
According to the Courier Mail, Bines and Evans sued Anderson and her husband Declan Redmond for $1.5 million over a business falling-out.
The legal battle began in 2015, when Anderson sued Evans, her former business partner, for funnelling her money into his other businesses and failing to promote her business as promised.
Some three years later, it’s still not over.
Claims she (kind of) cured cancer
In October 2017, Bines posted an Instagram story detailing how one of her customers overcame cancer, in part, by following her meal plans.
“Just to hear the stories of how I might have impacted a life, whether it’s in a small way or big way, there’s even a girl in LA, who had cancer, and she followed my plans and reckons that’s what cured her cancer,” she said.
Listen: The problem with how fitness is sold to us. (Post continues after audio…)
“I’m not saying I cured cancer, but in her case she said following my meal plans and listening to my Snapchats and adopting healthy habits and completely turning her health around, she survived.”
Fans and foes reacted furiously to the claims at the time, her quotes making national headlines, our inherent interest in wellness falsehoods piquing.
At the time, Dr Brad McKay told Mamamia Bines defence – the idea she didn’t “cure” cancer but “helped” – was being “disingenuous”.
“It’s not saying it, but it’s still implying that that’s what she’s done,” he told Mamamia.
“We’ve seen from all of the shemozzle that’s happened with Belle Gibson saying that her diet cured people from cancer that she’s been sued. From Australia’s perspective and through our legal system, we see the importance that’s placed on giving people correct information.”
Bines parks in disabled car park
In September last year, Bines uploaded a video to YouTube which accidentally showed her parking her car in a disabled parking space at her gym at Pacific Square on the Gold Coast Highway.
Bines defended herself against the subsequent and fierce backlash, explaining no one in her gym uses the park.
“When no one’s used that car park for three years and we have no members with any disabilities, then I do use that car park sometimes,” she said on her Snapchat story.
“They are there 24/7 … yeah, sometimes I do use it. I know that it does look bad in some way but I hope you guys can hear my side of the story.
“Sometimes I do use it and I do apologise if I have offended anyone, but I wanted my loyal followers to see my side. There’s always that 5 per cent to comment, judge criticise and jump down my throat at everything.”
Bines’ husband posts photo of dead dog
Just weeks before the disabled car parking debacle, Bines’ name appeared in headlines – this time after her husband Steven Evans uploaded a photo of a dead dog to Facebook.
“What do you do when a dead dog ends up on your beach A) bury it B) leave it C) put in water and let someone else deal with it or hope sharks get it,” he captioned the image.
After users branded the post “disgusting behaviour”, Evans deleted the post but not before the internet had taken screen shots, and the post had become the subject of various news articles.
Her online feud with Tess Holliday
In February 2016, Bines shared a composite photo of plus-size model Tess Holliday and a frail catwalk model, labelling both women unhealthy and not “good role model[s] for young girls”.
The other woman pictured was Ana Carolina Reston, who died in 2006 of kidney failure, after reportedly living on a diet of apples and tomatoes.
In the post, Bines said of Holliday that she doesn’t “think it’s a healthy body image that should be applauded”.
In response, Holliday’s husband, artist Nick Holliday, took aim at Bines’ “tone of concern”.
“Congrats on successfully explioting [sic] the mother of my child to try to appear like you’re relevant but let’s talk some actual facts:
“First let’s dispense with the tone of concern, you don’t care about her at all.
“Just like you don’t care about the people to whom you sell (mostly bad, sometimes plagiarized) diet advice,” he said.
And now, as Bines’ brand and image grows, it seems inevitable that she’ll be the centre of controversies to come. The 29-year-old mother-of-one is under a microscope, with her every move studied and evaluated by countless people who want to see her fall.
It’s up to each of us to decide whether the criticism of her is fair, where her responsibility begins and ends, and what it really is about Ashy Bines the brand, not Ashy Bines the person, that evokes such passionate responses.