Bikini blogger is teaching toddlers how to squat in controversial 'edutainment' show

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
Ashy Bines is a controversial fitness blogger in Australia. (Photo: Instagram/ashybines)

A mega-popular Australian fitness blogger has become the target of criticism over the launch of her new “edutainment” series for kids aged 1 to 6 because of its emphasis on exercise and nutrition.

Ashy Bines, who runs a fitness empire including personal training, workout apps, active wear, nutritional supplements, and the Ashy Bines Bikini Body Challenge — and who has a following of 910K on Instagram, where she mostly posts workout and bikini-bod shots — now adds Ashy & Friends to her commercial offerings. The kids’ live-performance-meets-cartoon-series show, which is “coming soon” to Australian venues, is a “fun packed music, fitness and education show for 1 to 6 year olds,” the website explains. “It is a highly interactive experience and will have your child singing, dancing, exercising and smiling from ear to ear.”

The characters — including Ashy, a lithe blond girl, and a clutch of animal friends including a frog and a cheetah — go on adventures and, along the way, “learn about the benefits of water, eating healthy food, and only having sweet drinks as ‘sometimes’ treats. … We learn about fitness, sharing and caring with friends and having a go at things even if you haven’t done it before. We even learn how to do squats!”

 

Though it’s not yet launched, and only offers short clips of the various episodes on its website, Ashy & Friends has whipped some of those concerned with issues of children and body image into a frenzy. The head of an Australian eating-disorders organization, the Butterfly Foundation, told MamaMia that it appeared to be a “marketing ploy” that preyed upon parents afraid of having obese children. “And since when did that translate into a toddler having to be so concerned about putting on weight? That to me is just taking it too far.”

Facebook critics, commenting on a story posted by the New Zealand Herald, were particularly harsh. “This narcissistic woman has absolutely zero credibility,” noted one, with another adding, “You have to wonder how they come up with the idea of having someone with an eating disorder promoting health and fitness to kids.” Another chimed in with, “There is no such thing as a chubby 1 year old unless you are stuffing them full of crap food. As babies grow they become more mobile and most naturally shed any excess. There is certainly no need for rubbish like this at that age.”

Similar outrage was expressed on Twitter:

Bines has not responded to a request for comment from Yahoo Lifestyle (and also reportedly did not respond to publications in her time zone).

Claire Mysko, head of the National Eating Disorders Association in the U.S., could not comment specifically on Ashy & Friends, as she has not seen it. But she tells Yahoo Lifestyle that there are many important points to keep in mind when it comes to the messaging of fitness and nutrition to children of any age.

“Talking about food, body, and exercise should always be placed in a holistic framework,” she says. “For such young, young children, it should be about movement that makes your body feel good, with elements of fun and connection, with family or others. Where it becomes problematic is where it’s linked to your body’s shape and size in any way.” The same goes for how we talk about healthy eating with young kids, she says, pointing to 2016 guidelines for preventing obesity and eating disorders from the American Association of Pediatricians as a helpful guide.

 

“We do hear from parents of children as young as 6 who are starting to express concern [about eating disorders],” Mysko says, noting that while such complex disorders have biological and psychological elements, there are social elements as well. “So it’s really important with very young children that we approach it from a holistic way, and keep in mind there’s an onslaught of messages that can be really difficult to navigate. Kids are so vulnerable in terms of what’s communicated around food, weight, body image, and exercise.”

Maria Kang — a California-based fitness influencer and parent who has caught her own share of flak about messaging around exercise and body image, and who ran a pilot health-based exercise program for school-age kids — has also not seen Ashy & Friends, and she has a measured reaction to the concept and criticism.

“Ashy Bines is not the first person who has created interactive fitness videos for kids. However, since most of her current programming and branding centers around weight loss and having a ‘bikini body,’ I can understand the concern of her being the creator,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I definitely believe a greater focus should be on educating the parents, as they are the role models who buy/cook meals and encourage activity. I think children, however, should also be empowered to know how their body works and functions. For example, since I didn’t play any sports and my mother was inactive, I took my chore money at 12 and bought a workout step video and started performing exercises. I didn’t exercise because I hated my body, I intuitively did it because I knew it felt stronger when I did.”

Finally, Kang adds, “I think it’s too early to tell what Ashy has in store, but hopefully she provides diverse body types, positive language, and useful knowledge that encourages activity, health, and acceptance.”

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