Cassey Ho Shares How She's Always Kept It Real In an Industry That's So Focused On Aesthetics
"Happiness is the main goal, the physique of your body is a side benefit."
I found Pilates when I was just 16 years old. I remember watching Mari Winsor's infamous infomercials and forcing my parents to buy me her DVDs so I could do her workouts at home. For those of you who might not know Mari, she literally skyrocketed Pilates into a household name. Before that, it existed in relative obscurity.
Her body-sculpting routines and abs workouts promised weight loss and promoted that mind-body connection we all crave so deeply now, but back in the day, when not many people knew to appreciate it.
I did her workouts religiously, every day until I had memorized them all by heart. I'm not kidding, I can still do them in my sleep. Little did I know, though, that years later, women around the world would be doing the same with my workouts, making them an important, fun, and accessible part of their lives and routines.
The YouTube Video That Started It All
I became a Pilates teacher when I was in college. It was a side gig at my local 24 Hour Fitness in LA and I had about 40 to 50 students who were "regulars" at my 7:30 a.m. Pop Pilates class. After graduation, though, I got a job near Boston. And in an attempt to not leave my loyal students hanging, I recorded a workout video and put it up on YouTube, which was really the only social-media-esque platform out there, circa 2009.
At the time, YouTube had a 10-minute upload limit (!) so I had to squeeze all the moves for an hour-long class into that intimidatingly tiny time frame. Having no experience shooting #content, the last thing I was thinking about was making the video look good. (Find out how a bikini competition totally changed Cassey Ho's approach to health and fitness.)
The audio was terrible and the visual was pixelated because I didn't know anything about lighting. The goal was just to make my class accessible for my students, who knew me and my message. That's it.
Turns out, all the flaws in that first video didn't matter. A month later, I found that it had thousands of views and hundreds of comments from complete strangers who enjoyed my workout and praised it for being unique, fun, easy-to-do, and accessible.
Claiming My Space In the Fitness Industry
When I first started posting on YouTube, there were really only two big fitness channels out there-and they were very different than the content I was putting out. Both were physique focused and featured this really ripped guy, who was loud and in your face, and a woman, with had a similar persona. That aside, the workouts themselves, were clearly targeted at men.
But at the time, I wasn't "competing" with anybody. My videos were still geared toward my students. But as I kept posting, more and more people, women, in particular, began following my content saying they related to my message, because there wasn't really anything out there like it at the time.
From day one, I've preached that exercise should never be a chore-it should be something you always look forward to so that you don't want to skip it. You don't need fancy workout equipment, a gym, or hours of spare time in your day to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Turns out, a lot of women found that idea very appealing. They still do.
How Social Media Changed Everything
Over the past decade, as the fitness industry has grown, I've had to grow along with it. That meant getting on every social media platform and finding more creative ways to share my message. Today more than 4,000 Pop Pilates classes are streamed live every month around the world, and we are even gearing up to host our first fitness festival dubbed Puppies and Planks this weekend, all in an effort to keep my community connected and continue to provide more fun and authentic ways to make fitness fun.
I'm not going to lie, though, keeping it "real" has become increasingly difficult ever since social media skyrocketed. What used to be considered short-form content (like that 10-minute YouTube video I posted all those years ago) is now considered to be long-form content.
In part, that's because the everyday consumer has changed. We have shorter attention spans and want things to get to the point almost instantly. But that, in my opinion, has had a lot of negative ramifications. As a content creator, it's nearly impossible to have people actually get to know you. It's so much more about the visuals: the butt selfies, the transformation pics, and more, which has given the fitness industry a different meaning. As influencers, we're expected to use our bodies as a billboard, which is fine, but the actual teaching and the message behind what makes fitness so amazing is often lost with how much emphasis we now put on aesthetics. (Related: This Fitness Model Turned Body-Image Advocate Is Happier Now That She's Less Fit)
As social media becomes more intense with the plethora of ever-changing platforms out there, I find that people are becoming more connected online, but even more, disconnected in real life. As an instructor and trainer, I feel that it's so important for people to have real-life experiences because that's where you meet friends, feel that real positive energy, and truly get inspired and motivated.
Don't get me wrong, we are so lucky to have such incredible access to workouts thanks to social media. So if you're struggling to get started, you should absolutely follow instructors online, and feel proud about doing workouts in the comfort of your home. But to me, getting together with people in real life, exercising in each other's company, fuels this surge of positive energy. At the end of the day, that's what fitness is really about.
We Are All Responsible for Keeping It Real
The rise in social media popularity means there are so many seemingly influential people to follow, making it hard to decipher what's real and what isn't. And while it would be nice if platforms like Instagram were less saturated, this is the marketplace that we're in-that I'm in-and this is the reality in 2019. But this is also where I, and others, have a responsibility as an influencer to create real, authentic, educational fitness and wellness content that has the potential to transform lives-whether that's calling out beauty standards, feeling like a failure sometimes, or struggling with your own personal body image. The goal should be not to get carried away with how things look but to focus on the message you're trying to preach.
As consumers of this media, you have a lot of power too. Remember to always listen to your body and be conscious of what makes you feel good versus what feels gimmicky. It's so easy to follow a person who you feel is authentic and authoritative. At times, they might even feel like your best friend. You believe everything they are telling you as fact. But in reality, so many of these social media personalities are paid to say things, promote products, and a lot of times, look the way that they do because of their genes and plastic surgery. Not to mention they're probably working out way more than they lead you to believe. (Related: People Are Furious After One Fit-Fluencer Told Followers to "Eat Less Food")
Looking Ahead at the Fitness Industry
While I do feel like we are headed in this direction, the fitness community as a whole should be working on embracing what we have, and find the best potential that we're born with as individuals. It's easy to get stuck on what you need to look like outside when instead we should be focusing on your skills, talent, and mind. What I try to preach through my program and through my presence on social media is that there is no one-stop solution to losing weight, toning up your abs, or getting that perfectly sculpted booty. It's all about creating a sustainable lifestyle that's going to have its ups and downs, but that will contribute to you feeling good, strong and confident, overall, in the long run.
As the fitness industry evolves, I hope that working out continues to become more about having fun, and focus on being healthy and sustainable, versus just having physique-related goals. My hope is that more people look beyond that and find a workout that they truly enjoy. Health and happiness are the main goals. What your body looks like is a side effect.