They’re all over your social media timelines, urging you to a fit and healthier lifestyle, to get up and move. And Simeon Panda — who’s listed as one of the top 10 fitness influencers in the world by Forbes — is one of them. “It’s one of the biggest forms of recognition I could get, and it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” laughs the 31-year-old British bodybuilder.
What started when he was 15, as an attempt to put on a little muscle like his favourite on-screen characters, has grown into a sportswear and athletic gear business and online training programs. “Initially, I used to upload the odd set onto YouTube. It was in 2011 that I created a Facebook page and my own website. I was putting out information on training and the basics, and people wanted more,” he says, adding that the popularity was kind of incidental. From being a personal trainer and working in finance, to having 52,69,332 Facebook likes on his page, an average of 16 million views of his YouTube videos, and 3.2 million followers on Instagram, these incidentals are looking quite good.
“I now find Instagram easiest to get content out. But the most effective has to be YouTube. When I meet people, they always mention my channel, because through it, I have been able to express myself fully,” he says. And although social media is changing rapidly, he says that one rule remains consistent: be true to yourself.
Panda says his main goal is to share his passion for training. “The term fitness influencer fits perfectly with what I’ve been trying to do from the start.” And while his pictures get posted all over the internet as fitspo inspiration, he is quite aware of the risks that go with being misrepresented in a way that doesn’t go with his brand. One particular image (above) bothered him enough to write a long post on Facebook. “In it, I’m sitting on the edge of an infinity pool in Cyprus, and someone had added one of those motivational quotes on success. Now, I was there on work, for a couple of seminars. I work hard to be successful, and I felt that the picture did not represent that. The ideas of success in these motivational posts— yachts, villas, jets — don’t drive me personally.”
As an influencer, he is consistently approached to endorse brands. There’s just one litmus test: “I need to like and use the product, and believe in it. Anything I feel is disingenuous is rejected right off the bat.” Especially since one of his constant messages is natural bodybuilding. After winning several international competitions — and reaching Musclemania Pro status — there are still several discussions online on whether his impressive body is really all natural. “When I first found out about this, it was a shock. In the past, I wanted to prove it to them. Now I ignore the negativity and concentrate on putting out positivity,” he says.
That, he says, is one of the reasons he loved his latest visit to India, around Deepavali last year. “Everything was so colourful; I was garlanded with flowers and the tilak (hope I got that term right) was put on my forehead. India’s one of the most significant places for me because it’s so culturally different from anywhere else.” As for the bodybuilding and fitness scene, from what he has seen of it, it’s consistently improving. “The quality of the Musclemania show I judged was very good, and from the interactions I had with people in the industry, I could tell that they were very enthusiastic.”
Like most social media influencers, Panda is open to diversifying. He’s currently looking for an apartment in Los Angeles, as he’s planning to move there to pursue acting. “It has been a long-time dream of mine, and this is the right place to work on it.” Perhaps he’ll make it into the next Baywatch movie and give Zac Efron and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson a complex? We'll wait for the announcement on social media.