Brittany Dawn Davis is about to become one of the first influencers to have her social media empire probed by a jury trial, the biggest public reckoning so far regarding accountability in the creator economy.
The 31-year-old is being sued by the state of Texas over claims that her online fitness brand, Brittany Dawn Fitness, engaged in deceptive practices that negatively impacted customers with eating disorders. The trial is set to begin in the 95th District Court in Dallas on March 6.
Davis, who posts on Instagram and TikTok under @realbrittanydawn, began selling supposedly personalized online health and fitness plans in 2014. Thousands of people purchased these packages for $92 to $300, but, according to the February 2022 lawsuit from the Texas Attorney General, Davis failed to provide individualized plans and coaching to all customers as promised.
Neither Davis nor her attorney, Calvin McLean, responded to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Because Davis positioned herself as an expert in health and fitness and called herself an “eating disorder soldier” on social media, clients trusted that she had “special training” to address those conditions, according to documents filed by the state. Davis does not have professional fitness or nutrition training, though that’s not uncommon for fitness influencers. According to the lawsuit, at least 14 customers mentioned in the complaint are people with eating disorders, although Davis has denied taking on such clients.
“I truly need guidance, help, the right information and support right now currently have an eating disorder, horrible body image views am underweight for my height,” one woman messaged Davis, according to the lawsuit.
Rather than providing individual coaching, the lawsuit says, Davis simply gave “generic and non-substantive” feedback, such as “THAT’S MY GIRL! You’re killing it!” and “you’ve got this babe!”
Davis’s customers began sharing their issues with her fitness plans in a Facebook group called “Brittany Dawn Fitness Business Complaints” in 2018.
In February 2019, Davis addressed their complaints in a now-deleted apology video, saying, “I am sincerely sorry for any harm I may have caused anyone.” She appeared on Good Morning America to say she had taken “full responsibility” for her “mistake” and that she did “whatever it took to make things right.”
But one key issue is just how much money Davis made from selling her fitness plans to followers. Court documents from February 2023 allege that the defense has “attempted to obscure the truth” of her finances during the trial by submitting proof of just 11% of the payments that customers made to her. Documents also claim that the PayPal account attached to Davis’s fitness website, bdawnfit.com, has received at least $1.5 million since it was opened — significantly more than the $169,736 that the defense identified in discovery. Davis’s team has provided the attorney general’s office with more than 50,000 pages of material in connection with the case.
According to the lawsuit, the attorney general’s office is seeking penalties and court fees of between $250,000 and $1 million.
Pivot to Christianity Content
Davis is a rare instance of an influencer facing legal ramifications for her posts — but in the meantime, she has also pulled off a successful rebrand. After issuing her apologies, Davis took a brief break from social media, cast her fitness content aside, and returned as a Christianity influencer. She addressed the changes to her content in a November 2019 YouTube post.
“Fitness and health are no longer my identity. My identity is in Christ,” she said in the video. “You guys know that I went into a season of hiding when everything happened [...] I heard [God] say, ‘Stop trying to hide what I’m using.’”
Some Christians find Davis’s religious rebrand to be suspiciously convenient: Following accusations of exposing people who trusted her to potential harm, her target audience is now a group of individuals whose beliefs center on forgiveness. Follower Shanna Samul told BuzzFeed News in February 2022 that Davis seems to be using her newfound faith as “a weapon to escape culpability” because she hasn’t directly addressed her past wrongs publicly since 2019.
Davis lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers and followers after she was accused of selling bogus fitness plans, but she has gained back much of her following as a Christianity influencer, according to analytics platform Social Blade. For instance, her Instagram following dropped from 573,000 at the peak of her fitness career in August 2018 to 420,000 in February 2021 when the lawsuit was filed. Now it’s back up to 472,000.
Davis now runs a ministry called She Lives Freed that offers $125 tickets to weekend religious conferences she leads, where horse trough baptisms and speaking in tongues are encouraged. BuzzFeed News attended an April 2022 one-day retreat at which she addressed a crowd of devoted followers during a Q&A session. She alluded to her alleged deceptive business practices and the ensuing backlash by saying “that’s not who I am anymore” and “you cannot cancel what God has called.” When BuzzFeed News asked Davis individually, she declined to comment on the allegations against her, but mentioned that she had experienced suicidal ideation in the past.
On social media, Davis now posts religious lifestyle and marriage advice alongside her husband, Jordan Nelson, a former police officer who was sued by the ACLU in 2018 for excessive use of force against a Black man. In October 2021, Davis tearfully announced via monetized video that Nelson shot and killed her dog, Brodie, instead of taking him to the vet after he was hit by a car. They both faced backlash. Neither responded to a request for comment on the incidents from BuzzFeed News.
On Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, Davis has posted extensively about her relationship, having a miscarriage, and adjusting to life as a foster parent — and shared debunked conspiracies like the Wayfair child trafficking theory and a hoax blaming the 2021 Astroworld tragedy on “demonic activity.”
Concerns About GoFundMe and Foster Parenting
Through those controversies, Davis has amassed a following of people who critique her posts on a 38,000-member subreddit called r/BrittanyDawnSnark. It has more than tripled in size since the fitness plan lawsuit was filed. Members of the subreddit discuss Davis’s content, both noting alleged hypocrisy and making fun of her spray tan. At Davis’s religious conference, one of her volunteers warned that she would be keeping an eye on me because she knew I was a member of the subreddit.
And redditors are champing at the bit for Davis’s trial, though the subreddit rules say that people should refrain from attending in person.
“The Superbowl of Snark is upon us!” one Reddit user wrote in a Feb. 25 post outlining the upcoming legal appearances Davis would make. “CAN’T FUCKING WAIT,” one commenter responded. “I 👏 am 👏 so 👏 PUMPED 👏” another wrote.
Beyond the fitness plans, two major concerns with Davis have emerged from the subreddit. The first is an allegation that Davis and Nelson raised $25,000 via a now-deleted GoFundme page to send a man named James with substance use disorder to a rehabilitation center, but pocketed some of the money. In a January 2023 YouTube video, Nelson called the allegations a “fictitious witch hunt.”
Davis added she “does not owe anyone an explanation” of what happened with the money, because James is “doing incredible now.” They both asked people to “leave James alone.” James’s sister, April Delgado, also appeared in the video saying the help from Davis and Nelson was an “answer to prayer.” She told BuzzFeed News in February 2022 that she has a “good relationship” with the couple. The video came one month after a TikTok sleuth contacted James and shared a video of him telling her that he didn’t know what happened with the money — but since someone else was handling his care, that’s not surprising.
The other frequent topic of discussion in the subreddit is concerns over Davis and Nelson’s status as foster parents, following their other controversies. Davis posts about the two young children they have fostered — including one that appears to be in their care as of Feb. 23.
Kirsta Bowman, a youth advocate and TikTok creator who posts frequently about adoption, told BuzzFeed News that she and other foster care allies are “petrified for the welfare” of the children in Davis and Nelson’s care.
“She has a long history of misconduct and concerning behavior,” said Bowman, who herself is an adoptee. “I cannot sit by and watch this happen.” She added that she’s also concerned about the impact a social media personality could have on the child’s welfare, although that’s not specific to Davis, whose parenting posts have been mostly responsible.
Davis obscures the children’s faces in photos and withholds details about their circumstances, as foster parents are supposed to do, but briefly referenced one child’s medical issues in a post that Bowman said might impact the chances of reuniting the birth family.
Reddit users noted how frequently Davis began posting about foster parenting months before her trial, though Davis has expressed her interest in caring for children on social media for years.
Davis’s Response to a Growing Collective of Critics
Over the past few months, David has been threatening to sue people for sharing “libelous” comments, posts, and videos about her and speaking out about how she’s been cyberbullied. Sometimes she shows herself emotionally reacting to cruel comments about infertility and her body.
“My attorneys are so pumped right now, guys,” she said in a Jan. 16 Instagram Story in which she discussed suing her critics. “Literally so pumped.”
In another TikTok, she wrote that “God said” she can “ignore all the hateful things” people post about her.
The outcome of Davis’s upcoming trial will give her followers — and detractors — answers about her personal business practices and fill in the gaps she has refused to address publicly, but there’s a greater discussion happening as well. The trial will reveal the extent to which the law is prepared to monitor the business practices of influencers — and test the strength of Davis’s rebrand.