After running the NYC Half Marathon—Instagramming selfies with unsuspecting hotties all the way—Kelly Roberts became an internet superstar overnight. I sat down with her to discuss social media’s role in her rise to online fame, getting recognized in Planet Fitness and the article that called her a creepy sexist.
What was the catalyst to your selfies going viral? Did it gain traction on Instagram (or another platform) before the Buzzfeed article?
No. Before the article, on Instagram, I just got the same 26 likes I do on every picture (my parents, friends, etc.).
Honest-to-God, I did it (ed: secretly taking pictures of hot competition) to get through the race because I didn’t train. I was so worried about finishing. Because of the selfies, it ended up being the easiest race I’ve ever run. I literally laughed the entire way.
When I showed up to work the next day, my coworker, Justin, wanted to turn it into a Buzzfeed article. We sat together and made up all the captions, and within four hours, Good Morning America tweeted me asking to do a phone interview. From there, it just catapulted into the universe. Someecards wrote a hilarious article, one of the funniest I’ve ever read in my life; Gothamist, Huffington Post, etc. Several running magazines wrote about it, which ended up motivating a lot of people to take up running, because of how normal I am. I’m not a “fit” girl with a six pack; I’m just a normal, average girl who runs to stay sane (and to keep my cupcake habit in check).
What’s your day job? How much social media activity does it involve? Has your internet fame affected it in any way?
I work in administration and creative at XO Group Inc. My sister’s in charge of social media for The Knot, so I often handle the tasks she doesn’t have time to do. For example, when she’s scheduling posts, I’ll be pinning.
The only time anyone ever recognized me was at Planet Fitness, where I go to the gym. It was the day after it went viral and I was on a machine. I should add that I’m not a “cute” workout girl: those selfies were a fluke, because it was 33 degrees. Kind of how, like mummies are preserved in ice? That’s exactly what happened. In July, I look like a melting crayon. So, in this instance at Planet Fitness, I was looking pretty disgusting, and these guys kept following me. I took my earbuds out to see if they were following me or if they were just...creepy, and I heard one say, “Dude, just ask her! Just ask her!” As I got off the machine, he said, “Hey! Are you the girl that did the selfies? You should take a selfie now, you know, hot guys at Planet Fitness!” I’m pretty sure that goes against everything Planet Fitness stands for. I didn’t do it.
Have you had a lot of interest from brands since the selfies went viral (free stuff, offers, etc.)?
Somewhat. Especially now that Run Selfie Repeat has taken off. Several brands have wanted to do Facebook contests too, which is cool.
Especially in the summer, workout clothes are very important because I chafe like none other, so finding the right equipment is crucial. I had a really cool heart monitoring company tell me “We have all this cool stuff!” and I’m like “send it all over!” It’s picking up, but not as much as I would like.
ED. NOTE: We’ll obviously be sending Kelly some UNIQLO Airism...
How would you respond to the Washington Post article that criticized your marathon selfies?
I get it. It was creepy. That’s the point! But at the same time, the reason I think it worked, was because it’s fun and was done in a celebratory sort of way. No one loves a runner more than I do, because I appreciate how hard it is to run. I’ve run a marathon and I probably broke down and cried four or five times. I registered for the NYC marathon on Monday and I’m still shaking like a wet dog, like “What am I going to do?!” I better see some funny signs. There’s gotta be a lot of hottie hunting to get me through that one...
I understood what the writer was doing: looking for a spin. Unfortunately, that story had no spin. It was a bad article. There were so many other angles it could have taken had they dug a little deeper. If I could be the woman who does that to a man, I’m happy to do it. I’m sick and tired of being the runner in spandex who gets hollered at all day. Granted, I’m a little bit flattered because I don’t get that all the time, but at the same time, it’s uncomfortable. It’s nighttime, you don’t want to be yelled at, you’re trying not to end up in the alleyway...So if I can do that to men, I’m happy to do it. When the article said, “If a MAN were to do this…” If you want to talk about gender equality, let’s start with equal pay. Not this. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but in this case, I stuck my feminist chest out and was like, “Screw you.”
Also, I’ve had to guys submit male selfie pictures, and they’re not creepy. Because they did it in the right way, the girls are in on it. The guys can’t do what I did: the girls have to be in on the joke, otherwise it is creepy, but that’s because that’s the culture men in our society have laid out on a platter. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Lucia Davis is director of content at Obviously Social. Follow her on Twitter: @lkcdavis.