Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
As a celebrity fitness coach with 2.7 million Instagram followers, and having spent time as the face of CoverGirl cosmetics, Massy Arias is an inspiration to her fans. But getting to that space has not always been an easy journey.
At just 13 years old, Arias moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States and struggled to adjust to life in a foreign country. She had to learn a new language, a new culture and a new way of life in New York City. On her own since 17, dealing with the challenges of what to eat and earn money, life became overwhelming. A deep depression set in, making life even harder for Arias, who said she already emotionally struggled to find a reason to live. “Being depressed is not something you control,” Arias says. “It’s a word people use a lot, but I don’t think people understand what it is to not want to wake up in the morning, not wanting to live, or having any motivation to even breathe and get out there to perform your daily activities.”
As a young woman it was hard for Arias to see the beauty she already possessed, or who she was or wanted to be. With seemingly no options in sight, she somehow found the strength to move her body. Her debilitating depression ended up becoming the motivating force that saved her. “When I started exercising, it was an outlet that lifted me out of that space,” she says. “I started moving and changing my lifestyle in my 20s, and it has had a major impact on my mental health, body image and overall personality.”
Having a healthy body image and respecting the body she’s in are some of the many lessons Arias has learned getting to this space. As a women’s rights activist she wants to empower women by letting them know their definition of beauty must come from within and not from societal images of what a woman should look like. Arias wants to shift the perspective of what self-love means for women—a perspective that traditionally came from a place of being liked by their male counterparts or a cultural or societal stance, instead of within.
When she realized what exercise and a healthy lifestyle did for her, Arias knew she had to share what she discovered. Coming from a culture that lacks a focus on health, she was determined to make it her life goal to shift the thinking. Her mostly women clients flock to her social media feeling inspired to take on her MA Warrior Challenges. Arias is transparent, which resonates with her clients, and she is passionate about them achieving their goals to be the best version of themselves in a direct yet empathetic way. “You form a relationship and slowly get to know your client and tailor it to accommodate what that person needs for that time,” Arias says. “Más Vida, which is now the new name of my fitness brand, is all about motivating and educating in a very direct, educational and resourceful way.”
Arias may be motivated by her tribe of warriors, but what really inspires her is her young daughter, who is often showcased in her workouts. Arias realizes her daughter is the next generation, so she is mindful of teaching her what healthy looks and feels like at an early age to lay the foundation for adulthood. That mindfulness applies to how her daughter and other women see themselves physically, too. “Beauty is how you see yourself,” Arias says. “Have you ever met someone that is attractive, but they have such an ugly personality they become ugly to the eye? Well, there you have it. Beauty is confidence in oneself and carrying it out with a personality that is received as kind and other characteristics that are positive such as a sense of humor, trust, friendliness, empathy and confidence without cockiness.”
Having access to tools to cope with depression is instrumental to a healthy well-being and for Arias physical fitness that is paramount to her survival. She wants people to understand the transition to a healthy lifestyle isn’t instant, but if you approach it as a hobby more than a task it’ll be easier. “The more you make it about a slow progression to shift your lifestyle and unlearn negative patterns, the easier it will come to you,” she says. “I always say that life isn’t a race but a marathon.”
Arias has conquered many emotional battles, and she understands the mind and body are connected. Her goal now with her Más Vida fitness is to have everyone reach that same understanding and transform people physically and emotionally to create truly healthy human beings.
“I am already doing so with my programming, but I’d like to bring more awareness as to how the mind, perception and movement come together to shape decisions that help us want to live a healthier lifestyle,” Arias says. “One needs knowledge of oneself, creating new resources, routines, removal of stressors and constant motivation that can’t come from unsustainable sources. We need to find our ‘why’ outside of the physical.”
Senita Brooks is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.