Welcome to Talking Body, a series where we have honest conversations with women about their bodies. Up this week: Styles Mint New Black Blouse amp;berry qPaqwxv0Z, 27, the L.A.-based, Dominican Republic–born trainer and Instagram fitness sensation with more than 2 million followers. What makes her stand out is not only her focus on what your body can do over what it looks like (see: rowing a 100-pound dumbbell), but also her honesty. From struggling to find jeans that fit to body-image pressures, Arias welcomes the difficult side of making serious life changes. Here, she opens up about her transformation, making the cover of a magazine, and how, especially as an expecting mom, she hopes to reach out to young women.
Professional Pyjama Navy Pyjama Set Jockey Professional Jockey Navy Set The beginning of my fitness journey was to try to beat depression.I went through clinical depression and instead of overeating, I was just not eating enough. My body type has always been extremely slim; I'm an ectomorph. But I wasn't eating, to a point where my body was eating itself: My hair started receding, my gums started receding, I started losing a lot of weight. I'm 5-foot-8 and was close to 110 pounds. My body fat percentage was 29 percent–close to someone who is considered obese. It was crazy for someone that small.
Depression pushed me to seek a way of beating it a natural way. And when I say exercise saved my life, it really did. Exercise made me happy. Training gave me a sense of clarity, helped me get out of the house, helped introduce me to new faces, kept me active, going outside, doing something positive. It wasn't only the exercise that beat my depression, but everything that came with it.
I do feel like women are under a lot of pressure based on the media. If I do a photo shoot, they might smooth out my skin. They might take out cellulite. They might take out some stretch marks. They might enhance certain body parts and it's really just creating the wrong image. We have forgotten how real women are supposed to be looking like.
In my Dominican culture, women are voluptuous. I was not voluptuous. I have no hips, I don't have the 'typical' Dominican body. When I got into fitness, one of the things that I wanted to do was to just build some curves to feel more feminine. But there's certain things about my body that structurally I cannot change, however, and to be honest with you it took me a little bit to understand that this is my body. My hips are not gonna get any wider.
I honestly think if you're not happy with who you are and you're always trying to fit into something that, structurally, you're never going to be, then you're never going to be happy. It took me a little bit just to understand I have to love the body that I'm in because it's still beautiful. And I have to understand that women come in different shapes and different body types. I've used exercise to help me feel more confident inside and out, to help me build the areas that I can actually enhance so that I can feel more comfortable.
When I was starting out, I had exercise-induced asthma, which can be easily controlled with exercise. But it's tough to get over that hump because you get to a certain point where you can't really breathe; your chest starts tightening up based on your heart rate, so I started with the elliptical. I was extremely small and at the time I didn't have the money to pay for a personal trainer, so I had to learn a lot of things on my own. It all started with the elliptical doing five minutes, which turned into 20 minutes, which turned into 30 minutes, which turned into 45, which turned into an hour, until that wasn't enough to really release endorphins. My core belief is "progress, not perfection."
I realized I had to do something else because if not, I was just going to waste away. When I started lifting, I couldn't even lift 10-pound dumbbells for 12 reps. It all started one step at a time, 10 pounds turned to 15 and so on. In my mind, I had no expectations. That is what I think pushes people to quit or quit sooner than they should—the fact that we look at other people, we have certain expectations as to how we're supposed to look. In my mind, it was me versus me. I don't care who's in the gym. I don't care what the next person is doing. I don't care how the next person is looking. This is my journey and I'm just looking to be better than I was yesterday.
I kept trying. I failed at almost everything. I was horrible. But every day was a 'me' day; every day was, Okay, let's try this and see how it works. So I learned about a lot of things on my own until I reached a point even on social media where I had too many people asking me too many questions and fitness just fell on my lap. I started feeling a sense of responsibility on my shoulders because I had all these women asking me, 'How did you achieve this?' and I just couldn't disappoint people, so I decided to educate myself and everything started that way. I started the account in 2012 as @mankofit; people know me by that, great, but people needed to learn my name. People needed to know who I am, so it became @massy.arias. It's been an organic process.
I'm trying to educate people to move, eat healthier, this is what you can be, because fitness is not only [about the] physical. Living this lifestyle really enhances other areas like responsibility, accountability, structure. It gives you a sense of encouragement in other areas because this lifestyle is not for everybody. It really pushed me to see life in many different ways because if I can do this physically, I can actually put this energy into other areas in my life. And honestly, it has given me a lot of structure, a lot of clarity, and I see life in a very different way. I feel alive; I don't know what it is to get sick. I live happy and that's one of the things that I wanted to accomplish. Just being happy, because at the end of the day, depression is real and people don't talk about it, especially in my culture people don't talk about it. And one of the things that I wanted was to be happy, and this lifestyle has done it for me. So slowly but surely, you know, it's a process, it's a journey, and I embrace the journey.
Having an aesthetic goal is great, but it can only motivate you for so long. We all change at different times because we all have different body types just from genetics. And I feel that, even just working with my clients, those who were just focusing on the aesthetic part were not successful at the end because they didn't understand that this takes a little bit of time. People just want instant gratification.
It's really hard to put on muscle. It took me about two and a half years to actually really develop the muscle mass that I have today. Imagine if you start your journey and in three months you're not seeing the results that I've been able to accomplish in two or three years. You're going to get discouraged and you're going to quit, and fitness for me is not about just achieving a body. It's more than that. Fitness is about health and wellness and happiness—because if you take care of yourself, you're gonna live longer, you're gonna be happier. Taking a picture of my butt or taking a picture of my abs every single day? That's not helping you. I'm focused on performance. From time to time you want to encourage and motivate people, but I choose to do it in a different way. I choose to do it with the things that my body can do because I was just a 'regular' girl, and I'm showing people, hey, you can also become an athlete.
I'm trying to get women to move and feel strong and feel confident in their own way, not just trying to fit any other mold. Let me educate you. My goal is not, 'Look at me, look at me.' My goal is, 'I'm going to teach you how to live healthier.' People really need to distinguish what is just fitness modeling and what is health and wellness. It's a fine line. [They are] two very different things because you can be shredded and that doesn't mean you're healthy, which is crazy. You can have a six-pack and that doesn't mean that your core is strong, you know? You can see someone who's not shredded and muscular, but this person can run a marathon.
It was a huge moment for me [to] because you don't see ethnic women on covers. You don't see Latinas or Afro-Latinas with a bunch of tattoos; it's really not the norm. It was a big moment for me because it means it's not even about my looks. It's about what I'm doing, and that's what really keeps on pushing me to keep going. I do have a nice body or whatever, but who I am, what I'm about, and how I'm changing those who choose to follow me or get inspired by me? That's what's gotten me there. People love me in a way that it's not about just my body; it's about the message and it's about embracing who I am. I love myself and I wouldn't change that for anything, so you know, it was a big moment for me.
It's not about me anymore. Now that I'm pregnant, I'm trying to teach women, too, that you can have a beautiful, healthy pregnancy and you can move. You can feel great and so far, I'm over the bump of feeling horrible. My relationship with my body, honestly I don't know how it's going to change but I'm loving it. I'm not afraid of getting stretch marks or getting any cellulite, or anything that comes—I'm not afraid anymore. We'll see.
Women should embrace their pregnancy; they should do whatever they feel makes them happy because nobody prepares you for this. It's a tough journey, it's a long journey and I'm doing the things that make me happy, so yeah. Change is coming and it's coming pretty good. Being pregnant doesn't mean that you're gonna stop doing what you're doing. I understand if you were sedentary before and of course you're not gonna start any crazy routines that might harm the baby, but you can stay active, you can move. I have a prenatal trainer now because again, you still have to be careful. I'm not certified yet in prenatal training and my goal is to train during my entire pregnancy, so I told him that my water is gonna break in the gym!
I hope that I can teach my daughter how to love herself for who she is first, and not what she looks like. And I hope to teach her that she's beautiful no matter what and that we all come in different shapes and different forms, and that that's what makes her beautiful—the fact that she's different and not like everyone else. I hope I can teach her independence. I hope that she likes to be active because, I don't know, she's gonna be the next Serena Williams or Simone Biles. Who knows? I hope I can teach her the pursuit of happiness as opposed to, 'Let me just try to fit in,' because I understand how young girls can get the wrong message.
When I post, everything I post, I think about what would my daughter or what would a 13-year-old see? I can see who follows me now, and 20 percent of my account is 13- to 17-year-olds. That's a lot. So I have to carry myself in a way that empowers them as opposed to in a way that might make them feel bad. I was 16 years old once, looking at bodies. I used to sit with my best friend in New York and look at women like, 'Look at her body! Oh my God! I can't wait to get like this or to get like that!' We would just look and fantasize about bodies, and I could understand how girls feel. And now we have like 17-year-olds getting surgery, or 18, 19. And I really hope there are more women really just empowering other females to be role models and to send the right message.