Nikki Sharp on making her role as an influencer an authentic one.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Nikki Sharp on making her role as an influencer an authentic one.

My Reading Room

“I wanted to be a real influencer like Oprah Winfrey, not a social media influencer with a million followers"

Don't call Nikki Sharp a social media influencer. She may have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers but more importantly she’s a bestselling author, wellness expert, media personality and one heck of a sharp businesswoman.

During her international modelling career, Sharp lived in Shanghai, Sydney, Bangkok, Seoul and Athens. The 30-yearold blonde now runs her own media company and brand in Los Angeles. Sharp's gregarious charm and tanned physique are quintessentially Southern California.

“I’m finally very comfortable with who I am and I know my path,” Sharp says. “I believe a lot of finding this out was the travel I did. Looking back at my 20-year-old self, I never would have thought this is where I'd be in 10 years!”

While modelling, Sharp coped with stress, depression, insomnia and body dysmorphia with repeated cycles of binging and restriction. After a particularly horrible night in New York, when her drug-addicted roommate kicked her out of their apartment, Sharp had a catalyst moment. She returned home to Colorado and inflicted a 30-day mandate on herself to cook healthily for a month. Learning to make hummus and stocking up on better snacks like dried mango, coconut water and dark chocolate were baby steps on the path to a new healthy lifestyle that she now shares with the world.

“The eating disorder is without a doubt the most horrible thing I've ever gone through,” Sharp admits. “But it’s given me so much perspective on the world and allowed me to become who I am today.” After her break in Colorado, Sharp returned to London in 2012 and took courses on raw food, sport and everyday living nutrition. She also became a certified yoga instructor and health coach.

Sharp started an Instagram account to catalogue her journey, because friends on her personal account complained that she was posting too many food photos. She wanted a career in health, but had no idea that Instagram and social media would be key to her success. “My account grew really quickly,” she says. In January 2013, she had 10,000 followers and by May, 100,000 followers. Sharp posted headless body shots, sharing the evolution of her relationship with food and her body. “You eat good food, you feel good,” she says. “You don’t eat good food, you don’t feel good. It was like a magical concept for me that I didn't understand prior to that. You can change what you eat and in one day you feel a difference.” She will forever be grateful for the kindness and compassion shown to her by the Instagram community, including friends she met online who she remains in touch with today.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

Before it became trendy, Sharp came up with an idea for a five-day detox. “I didn't want the restriction of a diet,” she says. “A diet doesn’t make you feel good. I wrote the programme with recipes in just three days.” When she posted an Instagram photo with a note offering the five-day detox programme to any interested followers, she was so encouraged and excited by the response. She sold each PDF for £5, or US$8, and in two weeks she made US$200 by emailing PDFs. After setting up her Wordpress site, the money started coming in. At the peak of e-book sales, she was earning US$50,000 a month, receiving a phone notification with each purchase. “It looked like it was raining money on my phone!” she says with a laugh. Even without studying business, Sharp created a fantastic stream of passive income. She leveraged her e-book success by creating an app and writing an Amazon bestseller with Random House. Today she’s working on her second book about meal preparation, scheduled to come out next summer.

Ultimately, Sharp believes that finding happiness and fulfillment in life is all a matter of balance and a positive mindset. “I love working out because it makes me feel good, instead of using it as a punishment for eating badly,” Sharp explains. “Healthy food makes me feel great so I choose to eat it. Nothing is based on restriction in my life. I also balance work, life and friends, and now understand that health comes from being happy first and foremost.”

Although Sharp first got started on social media, she now has a critical eye for the false world Instagram can portray. “I think it’s leading to more eating disorders and people are feeling more alone and isolated even though we have a so-called community.” In December, her month-long digital detox extended into 43 days offline. “I decided that I wanted to be a real influencer like Oprah Winfrey instead of a social media influencer with a million followers,” she says. “It was the best month in my life.”

Reflecting on her journey, Sharp feels she has fully recovered from her eating disorder, and tries to live in the present each day. “I look at everything as learning experiences,” she says. “I will never reach my personal and professional goals if I let stress be the guiding force. Instead I ask myself these questions at the end of the day: How much did I laugh and smile? How much did I accomplish? What’s my service to others?” www.nikkisharp.com