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Health coach Massy Arias on the Afro-Latinx fitness conundrum

Health coach and personal trainer Massy Arias is helping change the perception of health and beauty in the Afro-Latinx community. Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Fabletics

For Black History Month, espnW celebrates the first-generation African-American athlete experience and the diversity of the African diaspora.

Dominican Republic-born health coach and personal trainer Massy Arias started her fitness journey more than seven years ago as an act of self-love after struggling with depression. Arias, who has 2.5 million followers on Instagram (as of publishing date), shares her health and wellness path publicly -- inspiring fans around the globe to get up and move. Notables such as Gabrielle Union-Wade and singer Kehlani have been known to "like" Arias' workout videos and motivational posts.

Arias, who resides in Los Angeles, talks to espnW about changing the stigma that surrounds mental health and the evolving perceptions of beauty in the Latinx community.

espnW: You've noted that working out helped you manage your depression. Please discuss your experience.

Massy Arias: Lots of things are repressed in my culture. When I was going through my depression, I was going through it on my own. My dad could not understand. He comes from times where these things were not a subject -- it was about shame. You can only rise above it if you talk about it.

But it comes down to education. It comes down to seeking emotional intelligence and being open-minded.

espnW: When you started working out, did you fear the loss of curves? Did you think you'd be less desirable in the Latinx community?

MA: If I didn't work out the way I do or eat in the manner that I do, I would be very slim. I'm a very petite woman and I fluctuate [in weight] a lot because of building muscle -- it demands a lot. [Soft] curves are glorified in my community. And I would ask myself, "Wait a minute, am I not good enough?" No one can make you feel a certain way unless you allow them to do so.

I have five brothers, and it didn't matter if a woman had a big booty or if she had [shapely] hips or didn't -- they ended up with the woman who had character. It wasn't just about her body or aesthetics. Women need to look at themselves as more than a piece of property or meat.

I allowed someone to make me feel inferior [at one point], so I had these awful thoughts about myself which is I why I got a breast [enhancement]. Well, it didn't matter. It didn't matter if I had breasts, it didn't matter if my booty was big or small. We need to make sure we're doing things because we want to do them -- because they make us feel better.

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Speed day [tag a friend, and let's get it] "Crave the result so intensely, that the work is irrelevant" || Día de agilidad [ menciona a un amigo y dale] "anhela el resultado tan intensamente que el trabajo es irrelevante" dale mi tribu! �� @jessiej #wild #ootd @fabletics www.massyarias.com #childpfGod #hijadecristo #ma60day

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Feb 26, 2019 at 4:11pm PST

You have a young daughter. How do you teach her to love her body and culture?

MA: I honestly don't care where you come from, what your political views are, what your religion is or what the color of your skin is. You're human, and I'm going to treat you as such. So, I want [my daughter] Indi to not identify as, "Oh, I'm this chocolate drop." And she's going to, of course, identify herself as someone who came from African descent and also Latin descent. But at the end of the day, I want her to know that she's Indi. I want her to understand love.

You are frequently identified in media as "the face" of Latinx fitness and health -- how heavy is the weight of that responsibility?

MA: I believe we [as people of color] have to work twice as hard to get what others are getting. But me being angry and putting my energy towards being angry, it doesn't provide a solution.

This industry is dominated by people who don't look like me. And I'm often the only. I was recently featured in a magazine that will go unnamed, but I was the only person of color. Where is the Asian representation? Where is the black representation?

But what am I going to do? I'm going to make sure that I am the best at what I do. This is where I put my anger -- making sure that I am a professional. Making sure that there is no way you're not going to include me in what you do because I am this good. I work twice as hard, three times as hard if I need to. But nobody is going to catch me angry. I should be mad about a lot of things that have happened to me, but I put my energy toward results.

That's my way of finding a solution.

Ryan Alexandra Petit is a Venezuelan-Haitian, writer and content creator. Petit aims to use her platform to create positively impactful content for her community.