'Feel empty': Dark side to AFL cult hero's Instagram fame

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·Sports Reporter
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Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith has become a fan-favourite on Instagram, but the 20-year-old says the massive following has taken a toll on his mental health. Pictures: Getty Images/Instagram
Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith has become a fan-favourite on Instagram, but the 20-year-old says the massive following has taken a toll on his mental health. Pictures: Getty Images/Instagram

Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith has unexpectedly become one of the AFL's biggest social media drawcards, but online fame isn't all it's cracked up to be according to the 20-year-old.

Footy fans love referring to Smith by his nickname 'Bazlenka', which doubles as his Instagram username, but the Bulldogs ace says he's been forced to find strategies to deal with an increasing amount of bizarre behaviour from fans online.

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Only Richmond star Dustin Martin boasts more Instagram followers than Smith, who surpassed Swans forward Lance Franklin's mark of 334,000 follows.

Smith has earned somewhat of a cult following with his distinctive blonde mullet and penchant for showing off his six-pack on Instagram, but there's no argument he's backed up his style with substance on the footy field.

Still, Smith said in an appearance on the Common Chaos podcast, Smith dived into the more unsettling aspects of his rise to prominence.Worst of all was receiving word that a faked nude image of him was being circulated on the morning of the AFL grand final against Melbourne last month.

Smith said it had been extremely difficult to put that knowledge to one side and concentrate on the task at hand - trusting 'future Bailey' to handle the situation.

“There was a fake nude of me that got shared around Australia,’’ he said.

“This was like the day of the grand final, the biggest game of my life, and I get showed this photo by the boys. They knew it was Photoshopped … it was weird. 

"It got sent around to everyone while I was playing and then after the game I put this actual photo up.

“I completely left it there, I knew future Bailey can take care (of it). In the past – oh my God, that would send me off.”

Smith said that part of the problem was the disconnect between what is seen as a person's 'persona' online and the reality of real life.

He said young fans 'view you in this persona or as an object' which could lead to some damaging results.

Bailey Smith outlines outrageous messages sent amid Instagram fame

The 20-year-old said there had been significant mental health consequences which had stemmed from his rise to prominence.

Bouts of anxiety, panic attacks, difficulty getting to sleep and even more sever eating disorder symptoms were all things Smith said he'd experienced.

Even now Smith admits his strategy of essentially ignoring the toxicity of the social media platform and focusing on the things he enjoys day-to-day was not always a winner.

“I don’t know if it’s a good coping mechanism but I just don’t deal with it,’’ Smith said.

“I acknowledge it, I know it’s there, it is the elephant in my brain but I ignore it as much as I can. The things that ground me each day, I go get my coffee, going to the beach from 10 till 2, my best friends, getting dinner. I focus on what I want to do each day and what I want to get out of myself.

Bailey Smith has emerged as one of the AFL's brightest stars thanks to his colourful off-field personality. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Bailey Smith has emerged as one of the AFL's brightest stars thanks to his colourful off-field personality. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“I don’t open up that much because I’m scared of being judged and it’s just something that’s got to do with me. Fear of just being taken advantage of, as well. You can’t just open up to anyone. So I don’t do that but it’s been so refreshing over the past couple of days just to talk to you guys and not feel alone.

“There are so many people around you and wanting this and that from you, it’s so easy to feel empty inside, as dark as that sounds.”

Smith said he hasn't checked his messages on Instagram for more than two weeks, but it hasn't stopped his phone from lighting up with bizarre requests from time to time.

He said he once received a message from an unknown number offering a massive sum for sexual favours.

“I’m even getting these now, I don’t know how they got my number. Sends a screenshot of his bank account, $50,000 to sleep with this person," he said. 

"It doesn’t stop going. Then I’ve had the stock standard (offers).”

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