One woman who defied her parent’s wishes of becoming a doctor is now one of the biggest fitness icons on social media and inspiring millions to improve their health.
Cassey Ho, 29, is the founder of Blogilates, a YouTube channel for fitness, fashion and health with over 3.2 million subscribers. Her online videos have been viewed over 374 million times and her dance-style POP pilates classes are expected to be available in around 400 24 Hour Fitness clubs by 2017.
Despite her overwhelming success as a fitness-social media entrepreneur, Ho had no idea back then that she was going to be where she is today. Ho, a Los Angeles native, was raised in a Chinese-Vietnamese household where her mom controlled her love life and her dad controlled her academic life.
She majored in biology while at Whittier College, seemingly destined for medical school. Her parents wanted her to become a doctor, but Ho’s passion was fashion.
She told Nextshark:
“We screamed and cried, they really didn’t want me to pursue my dream of becoming a fashion designer. They thought I wouldn’t make money and I wouldn’t be successful and I wouldn’t honor the family. We had so many arguments about this so I sabotaged myself and dropped out of organic chemistry, which is the last class I needed to take the MCAT … They were really upset and we didn’t talk for a few years.”
Ho started drawing when she was six and had her first fashion internship in college. During this time, she also designed a yoga bag that she called the “Cassey Tote.”
Ho’s other side gig in college was as a part-time pilates instructor at a local gym. Her first introduction to pilates was a DVD she bought when she was 16 during high school in hopes of toning up for an upcoming pageant.
Though Ho was active during her high school years and served as the captain of her varsity tennis team, she didn’t quite enjoy the competitive aspect of it. Ho stuck to pilates because she enjoyed the independence, convenience and comfort of working out at home.
“I did pilates sophomore year of high school until sophomore year of college. That’s when I decided to audition for a gym down the street from my dorm. I wasn’t even certified, but I did it anyway because I knew it so well. The gym owner was really impressed and she offered to pay for my certification if I worked for them. That was how I began teaching and I’ve been teaching for nine and a half years now.”
After giving up her parents’ dreams to fulfill her own, Ho moved to the east coast to train to be a fashion buyer. Sad about leaving her students whom she had built relationships with over the years, Ho decided to make videos and post them online. Her first YouTube video was for her students who she wanted to remain in touch with.
“I told them they could watch my YouTube videos if they ever missed me.
“If you look at my first YouTube video, which was posted in 2009, it was a 10-minute POP pilates video total body. Back then videos could only be 10-minutes long so that was the maximum I can make the videos. For a while that’s how long my videos were until they changed it to longer videos.”
After eight months working as a fashion buyer, Ho realized she still felt unfulfilled. As fate would have it, her yoga tote bag that she designed in college was featured in Shape magazine in 2010. Taking this as a sign, Ho quit her job and bought a one way ticket to China to venture into possible manufacturing deals.
Jobless upon her return to the U.S., Ho turned to teaching pilates nearly 12 times a week to pay the bills. With more time on her hands, Ho was able to hone her video shooting and editing skills. Her YouTube channel, Blogilates, began to grow — as did her audience.
Similar to many industries, Asian figures are underrepresented in the mainstream. When Ho’s pilates DVD was released, she was the only Asian fitness instructor represented in the aisles of Target.
“I feel lucky that I have been featured in mainstream American magazines, even the cover of HEALTH Magazine, but should I have to feel “lucky” for the hard work I’ve put in and the experience I’ve gained over the years? The truth is, when you look at a fashion, beauty or health covers at the grocery store, 80-90% of the covers are dominated by caucasian women. When I was on the cover in January, I was the ONLY Asian person featured. So yes, I do feel like it is more challenging when it comes to being recognized for your work in mainstream media.”
Today, Ho is recognized as an inspiration by her army of “Popster” fans who look to her to learn about leading healthier and happier lives. She has scrutinized our culture’s obsession with the “ideal body image” and spoken out about models’ photoshopped bodies in ads.
In the end, our society’s standards of beauty and our own perceptions of ourselves need to change. Some of the biggest challenges keeping people from reaching their fitness goals are their superficial motivations. Ho said:
“I think it’s something that keeps people from reaching their goals — they lose the motivation only because their reason for starting wasn’t strong enough. So, for example, if all they really wanted was just, ‘Oh I just want thinner thighs or skinnier arms,’ when they get there … you’re going to get frustrated and you’re going to give up.
“That’s not how you should look at fitness. You need to think about it like, ‘I promise myself I’m going to work out three times a week and I’m going to have fun.’ Before you know, it’ll be a few months and there you go — there are your arms and your thighs. When you focus on the superficial … who’s to say you’re happy when you finally get there.”
As for her own workout routine, Ho says she gets her sweat on several times a week because it helps her feel and function better:
“I generally work out five to six times a week because it makes me happier, smarter, stronger and sharper. It helps me with my business and overall I just feel better, so to me, my fitness is my therapy and I don’t miss it unless I have an injury or I’m on a plane or something like that. How do I stay motivated? For those exact reasons because it makes me feel good and I wouldn’t want to skip it if it makes me feel good.”
POP pilates is a choreographed fitness regime that syncs pilates exercises with top 40 music hits. Some common injuries that Ho sees in students over the years while teaching pilates is strain in their necks. Instead, Ho says students should learn how to engage their abdominal muscles.
“Common mistakes in pilates is a lot of times when people go into pilates stands they tend to pull their neck up a lot instead of using their abs to lift up their chest so I have to train my students how to use their abs more because it’s easy to emulate the look of lifting your abs by moving your neck.”
In addition, the exercises are helpful for rehabilitating certain injuries.
“Pilates is very good for therapy so anyone who has an injured back, when you get into your pilates, it really starts to build your core and it starts helping with back issues.”
While her role as a social media personality is fulfilling and allows her to travel and meet her fans, Ho recognizes that there are downsides of being a public figure.
“The downside really came into true perspective when that terrible tragedy happened to Christina Grimmie in Florida where she was shot in front of her fans. Being a social media personality, we’re still riding a really fine line between being a celebrity and an anonymous person to people who don’t know you.
“The part that makes you a social media celebrity is that we are so relatable and close to our audience — we’re like friends. Real ‘A-list celebrities’ and movie stars are surrounded by guards. They don’t meet up with their fans, but we do and in some cases some of our reaches and audiences may even be bigger than movie stars.”
When she isn’t making videos for her channel or going on tours to meet her Popsters, the Los Angeleno manages her fitness empire that includes designing a line of fashionable athletic apparel that she sells on her website. Ho launched her “Pop Flex Active” shop in January and is currently working on her Fall collection.