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Creating a balanced life helped fitness expert Massy Arias go from depression to triumph

The 27-year-old health coach says our minds are a powerful thing

Meet Massy Arias. The health coach and personal trainer inspires people daily through her fitness routine and the exemplary and disciplined lifestyle she lives. More than 2 million Instagram followers saw the 27-year-old fitness guru sport a six-pack when she was 18 weeks’ pregnant. Inspiring is just one of many words to describe her impact.

Inspiration doesn’t only exude from this Dominican Republic native’s fit body but her words of wisdom from her own journey that had some dark moments from depression and challenging situations. But Arias has never been one to wear a victim sticker on her forehead because she looked past the dark and into tomorrow’s possibilities.

The health coach and personal trainer to celebrities and everyday people alike opened up with The Undefeated in Los Angeles after her empowering sit-down with Soledad O’Brien in front of high school and college students who must confront issues of self-confidence, body image and naysayers.

No topic was off-limits, and she spoke about her passion for coaching, getting through depression, regret for getting breast implants, thoughts about people calling Olympian Laurie Hernandez a fake Puerto Rican because she doesn’t speak Spanish, splitting chores with her husband and much more.

Gianina Thompson: How would you describe the kind of coach you are?

Arias: As a health coach, my main goal is to help you change your lifestyle in a sustainable way without any diet or crazy method that people are using nowadays. I don’t believe that you have to sacrifice your health in order to achieve a certain look and I think that people have been really misguided on how to get back in shape or how to achieve a certain look. I think we are making it too complicated.

I teach people how to eat right and eat in a way that they’re not compromising their relationship with food. So if you like Mexican food, I teach you how to make it healthier and how to make it fit into your lifestyle.

I don’t know about soul food, because you can’t really make fried food healthy unless you’re using an air fryer, which I told my husband [Stefan Williams] I wanted for Christmas.

Thompson: Clients learn from their coaches, but oftentimes it’s a vice versa exchange. What have you learned from your clients?

Arias: When you get to a certain point in your career, you sometimes start forgetting what you went through. My client Gabriela Vargas in New York was severely depressed, and it reminded me again how that was when I went through depression. She completely changed her life and taught me that despite what someone may be going through, you can still give off good energy and be a positive person. When I was dealing with my depression — I wouldn’t say I was a negative person, but I didn’t see the positive in things. She showed me how to always put your best foot forward even when you’re hurting inside.

When you’re a coach, you’re coaching because you are passionate about it. For example, I started this because it’s what got me out of my depression. When I started my social media accounts, I saw that I inspired a lot of women who really related to my story because of how I developed my depression and got through it.

As a coach, when you’re doing something you love, the people you’re helping are actually the motivation to get you to do the things that you’re best at.

Thompson: Can you tell me more about when you were dealing with depression and how you got through it?

Arias: I developed clinical depression. I wasn’t the most privileged. I had it rough. My journey started with a lot of challenges. From not being able to do a push-up or be active because I have exercise-induced asthma and my body would shut down when my heart rate would reach a certain point. But not being able to accomplish the things I wanted to exercisewise because my body wouldn’t allow, gave me more motivation to keep pushing.

I never felt like a victim. Yes, I was stuck in a bad situation, bad neighborhood, my brother was sick so I couldn’t take advantage of my scholarship, so I was stuck in New York, but I never let myself think that I was a victim. I’d say, ‘OK, this is my current situation, I know where I want to be and where I’m headed. I’m not going to let this be the one thing that keeps me down.’

Some people think they’re going to sit down and things are going to just fall in their lap. No, you have to work hard and the reality is there’s some people more privileged than others. But I do believe that I was able to get outside of my situation because I put in the work and I didn’t listen to someone — or even my body — tell me that I couldn’t. Our minds are a powerful thing, and when my body was giving up my mind was like, ‘No, we’re ready to go.’

Thompson: What’s your advice to people who become devoured by their situation as victims?

Arias: You can dwell on everything that’s happened to you and become a victim of your situation or your environment, but I always say, ‘You can cut from the same cloth and make different garments.’

Situations didn’t make me a victim but instead became my motivation to get out of them. I’ve always strived for better things. I may not know how I’m going to get it done, but I knew I was going to get it done even if it takes me one step at a time and longer than others.

I managed to finish school and help my brother out [who was sick]. No, it wasn’t easy and many times I had to eat Cup-A-Noodle Soup and I was hungry, but I couldn’t afford certain things, so I had to pay for what was necessary. But again, I didn’t make myself a victim of the situation.

I took the situation and used it as fuel to catapult me to doing the things that I’m doing today.

So when I first started, I was doing boot camps at the park for $5. Sometimes one person would show up or five people and sometimes no one at all. Did I let that discourage me from what I wanted to do? No, I kept pushing and five people turned into 25, and 25 turned into 30 and now I’m filling up stadiums and arenas.

So you can be de-motivated by all the obstacles that you’re going to find in the way, but that is life. Life is hard and when it punches you, you have to get sweaty, toughen up, get back up and continue your journey.

Thompson: Olympic gold medalist, member of the Final Five for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team and most recently the winner of Dancing with the Stars Laurie Hernandez shared how she’s been called a “fake Puerto Rican” because she doesn’t speak Spanish. What’s your take on people spreading “ugly” around?

MA: We’re surrounded by people with a lot of insecurities who are portraying their insecurities toward others. Laurie is on the top right now and she’s successful. She’s not guilty of her parents not teaching her Spanish. People don’t understand how challenging it is to manage not only putting your child through gymnastics but the type of training or sacrifice they have to do. People don’t know the situations and are so quick to judge. And why? Because she’s at the top and she’s doing something that they want to do.

This happens in our culture where a lot of blacks and Latinos don’t support each other enough. If we keep putting each other down, we’re never going to be on the top.

Thompson: You experienced moments similar to that when you were younger in not having the typical curvy “Latina body.”

Arias: For me, not having the curvy Latina body affected me when I was younger, but as I matured, I understood if I didn’t love myself the way I was, nobody was going to love me.

I accepted who I was and acceptance is something that people have a hard time in dealing with. Even when I started, I had no hips. I had to create the illusions of curves by building my legs. Now I have big thighs, but no hips and a little bit of a butt because of my workouts.

How did I deal with people’s insecurities [that they projected onto me]? I just brush it off and think to myself, ‘You don’t make my life. You only know my name. You don’t know my story and if I’m doing all of these positive things and the only thing that you can say about me is something negative, what does that say about you?’

At the end of the day, people are always going to find something negative to say.

Thompson: Speaking of negativity, you recently posted a video of a 3-year-old boy doing one-handed push-ups with his dad in the back cheering him on. Can you talk about some of the negative responses from that?

Arias: This kid is impressive. I posted it and people were like, ‘Let kids be kids! This is child abuse.’ OK, go ask LeBron James, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Steph Curry, Michael Jordan or any of the great athletes at what age they started.

Just because you’re not experiencing it, it doesn’t mean that other people are crazy or doing something wrong. I’ve seen little girls twerking at 3 years old and kids cursing and acting like adults, but people find that funny. I don’t think so. So that’s not child abuse, but kids doing one-handed push-ups is? What about having a child on an iPad or playing video games 24/7? It’s the leading cause of obesity.

People will always have something to say. There’s a lot ignorance in the world.

Thompson: Do you feel some women don’t lift weights because they don’t want to come off as looking too manly?

Arias: I feel like a woman should look however she wants to look. Three or four years ago, someone asked me if I felt like men put pressure on women to look a certain way. I don’t think so. I think it’s women putting more pressure on other women. There’s so much competition going on between women nowadays. You look in magazines and see all these perfect bodies that get retouched and photoshopped and tucked in, and this is what women are looking at.

Thompson: What are your thoughts on the relationship between self-confidence, body image and plastic surgery?

Right now the media is creating the whole big butt and hourglass shape. I could never have the hourglass shape. So many people are getting surgery to get that kind of body because that’s what is in right now.

Mind you, I got breast augmentation in 2012. I did it not because I saw other people doing it but because it made me feel better. I was building pecs because of the muscle I was gaining and I was like, ‘You know what? I want to feel more feminine.’ It was my decision and not because someone else was doing it.

I have athletic friends of mine who have not gone through plastic surgery on their breasts, so I’m putting myself as an example. I was telling my husband the other day how I was so young and stupid and if I could take my implants out today, I would. Potentially I would after I have my baby, you never know.

It’s about feeling confident and knowing that looks fade, but you know what doesn’t fade — you, your soul, your personality — and I know it’s cliché, but we’re forgetting how a real woman should look and men appreciate a natural woman.

Thompson: What are a few ways that you live a balanced lifestyle?

Arias: My husband and I do chores together. If I cook, he’s washing dishes. If I do laundry, we’re folding together. I sweep, he mops.

I allow myself an hour and a half for me and me alone — whether that’s getting my hair or nails done. My gym time is my time and I have my phone on airplane mode.

I speak with my mom at least five times a week, if not every day.

My day is very scheduled and I plan ahead, even when it comes to all of my social media accounts. A lot of people don’t know that I’m handling all of my social media accounts. Instagram isn’t paying me and I’m not promoting a team that pays me $10,000 a post. Everything I do and how I make my money is through my business, which I carry with a lot of integrity.

Thompson: What’s your advice to people seeking balance in their life?

Arias: The other day on Twitter, I posted a quote that said, ‘Don’t ever feel pressure to play a role that you are not comfortable with doing yet.’

As women, we are always doing this. We put everyone in front of us. Take it slow. You don’t have to put all the pressure on you. It’s OK to be a little selfish with yourself because if not, then you’re going to put everyone else in front of you and not accomplish the things you want to accomplish.

We’re so focused on our career, education and bettering ourselves that we may not give ourselves that time to meet someone to have that family. Then you’re 30 then 35 and, like, ‘How did I get here?’ As women, we have a lot of pressure coming from many directions.

You also have to understand there’s always going to be someone for you, but you have to be yourself completely, because if not, you’re going to be stuck with people who are not right for you. As long as you’re yourself and not sacrificing who you are and trying to change for other people, then the right people will always come for you.

Gianina Thompson is a contributing writer for The Undefeated. Since grabbing kicks for Allen Iverson back when she was a 16-year-old Foot Locker sales associate, being part of how sports meshes with entertainment and impacts culture has been a driving force for her ever since.