“What’s your body positive story?”
Ask any woman who has struggled with, and combatted, body image this question, and you’ll be sure to hear a different story; different, yet familiar. It’s true that our relationship with our bodies is unique due to the broad scope of experiences that shape our opinions about ourselves—bodies included—and that really is at the core of the “body positivity” movement: we’re all different, and that’s worth not only embracing, but celebrating.
Yet where most of us connect on this topic, is the universal struggle of being a woman trying to love the skin she’s in despite all of the conflicting/contradictory messaging we are fed (pun intended) throughout our lives. Truth be told, it is difficult to balance being healthy and body accepting, especially when social media and other online spaces share images of what “healthy” should look like.
Cassey Ho is no stranger to this landscape. The creator of blogilates has been on the receiving end of criticism over not “looking the part” of fitness expert, during a time that she was working on healing her own relationship with her body and food. It’s one thing to struggle quietly away from public opinion, it’s another to have to endure comments from people on an open platform. But Ho has chosen to use her platform for good, combatting negativity with her YouTube video, “The Perfect Body” and calling out companies that irresponsibly perpetuate unrealistic body expectations.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Cassey Ho at the Propel Co: Labs Fitness Festival about how she became a role model in the body positivity space, her illustrious fitness career, and the exciting things she has planned.
When you called Target out on poorly photoshopping the image of a bikini model on their website, did you have any idea what would come of that, such as becoming one of the OG body positivity role models?
No, it was just [something] I felt was wrong internally and didn’t feel comfortable with. I was like, “I have this blog and I’m just going to write about whatever I want to write about.”
What was the impetus for you to get into fitness and join the body positivity conversation?
It’s always been about me dealing with my body insecurities. It’s something I feel very passionate about because I grew up as a chubby kid, and I had people call me “fat” to my face—as an 8 year old— (insert my frustration over this: that sucks) and that really stabbed [my] confidence. So [I’ve always been] very conscious of the way that I look and how people judge me.
But the blog wasn’t supposed to be a platform, it was [meant to be] a diary. I just wanted to write about things that bothered me, things that made me happy, things that were going on in my day, and it just so happened that [what I wrote about] resonated with people. But I never meant to make it my “thing.”
You’ve been very vocal about your own struggles with food. How did you use your platform to navigate your way out of that?
I for sure had an eating disorder and body image disorder. I was scared to eat apples. I was afraid of bananas. [It was] coming off of a bikini competition where I had lost a ton of weight in a very short amount of time. I was used to knowing what to do to lose weight, and as soon as I began to eat “normal healthy” again—you know, adding in a little brown rice along with my protein and veggies—I started to gain weight and didn’t know how to deal with my body. My body was trying to tell me “hey, you need to stop this.”
That took a long time to mentally get out of, because [I had gotten] to a point that I was so messed up that if I ate pizza I would lose weight, and if I ate lettuce I would gain weight—I was just all over the place. My metabolism was really damaged. It took a few years to discover what happiness meant again, in workout and in food.
So how did you deal with that being in a public space where you can’t hide anything?
It was really hard. Because people saw me lose weight they were like “whoa, this is great. Congratulations.” Then when I started adding back in healthy things, like quinoa, I started slowly gaining and gaining and people started noticing [and said] “wait…do your workouts not work anymore? What’s going on?” Gaining weight in front of the camera was embarrassing because I felt like I couldn’t control myself. Now, looking back, I know I had metabolic damage, but back then, I just felt like I was out of control.
And then you have people commenting on it, which only elevates it…On one hand you’re saying “I’m doing all this positive work on myself,” but…
All they can focus on is how much I weigh.
It’s crazy to me how much people focus on that. This brings me to the topic of “health at every size.” So many people have jumped on the bandwagon, including dietitians in the space I follow. What are your thoughts on this movement?
We’re all different. Of course you can be healthy at any size because we’re all made up of different DNA. But I think there’s a point when people may take the term “body positivity” too far and use it as an excuse, and that’s something no one else can judge [you for].
I think you need to be honest with yourself. You know when you feel good and you know when you feel not as good because of what you’re eating, and that’s something you have to decide for yourself. I never want to comment on “oh this person shouldn’t call themselves healthy” because [we] have no idea; even their doctor has no idea. Only you [know] how healthy you are. It’s a [personal] journey.
You’ve done so much over the last decade—you’ve even been in Time magazine—no big deal. So what’s next for you? How do you see yourself and your brand evolving as your career moves forward?[I] am planning on releasing more active wear. We’re going to ramp up the design—which I’m really excited about—for 2020. And growing our Pop Pilates army instructor base because, to me, it’s really important to get people out there taking the Pop Pilates classes live. It’s great to start on YouTube, but when you take the class live and you’re around a bunch of people who have such great energy, you push yourself harder, but more importantly, you have real relationships that you’re [building] with people in class. Those are long lasting, and those are the people that are going to encourage you to come back.
So taking the online connections offline—that’s such an amazing way to bridge the gap between social media and real life. How many classes do you offer?
There are over 4,000 classes being taught every month by live instructors all over the world. Our biggest partnership is with 24 Hour Fitness. So we’re right on schedule alongside Zumba and Body Pump. I started teaching at 24 Hour Fitness when I was in college and I was the only person teaching Pop Pilates [at that time].
I’m excited to see where things go. You are such a good role model, and with that comes a lot of responsibility, but it’s important. We need people like you. As the mother of a daughter—she needs people like you. Is there anything else you think people should focus more on, and things they should leave at the door?
With all the clutter we’re exposed to, I think people should realize that your fitness journey is your own. You don’t need someone to tell you, you’re doing something right or wrong. If [something] feels good, do more if it. If it feels bad, do less of it. That’s my whole philosophy with my professional life, love, fitness—it’s all the same. You need to really tune into yourself.
Ok, one more question—how many days a week should people work out?
It depends. I rest one day a week, but that’s because I really enjoy [working out]. It depends on your body, right?! A few days of good activity a week is good. Or even just lighter activity all days of the week. Just keep moving and don’t [let yourself] be stagnant.