By Nina Kalirai
The month of May is recognized as Asian Heritage Month. Heritage is often times something that is passed down to us from our parents or grandparents. It contributes to who we are, but does not define us.
In this interview with VIBE TALKS Correspondent Nina Kalirai, we discuss with with Cassey Ho, creator of the No.1 female fitness channel on YouTube Blogilates, her family history and how she ended up being a world renowned POP Pilates instructor, after sabotaging her parents plan of being a doctor. We also discuss how Cassey became so successful with Blogilates, as well as how she deals with negative comments that address her heritage.
Nina: Tell me a little bit about your family history. Where your parents are from, where they immigrated to and where you were born?
Cassey: My mom and dad are both from Vietnam and they came over during the Vietnam War. My mom was actually one of the boat people, so she was on a boat for seven days without food or water or anything. I believe pirates invaded their ship as well, luckily she made it out alive. She immigrated to Malaysia, and then Canada and then eventually to the United States where she met my dad. My dad had actually flown over on a plane to the United States, before the war started. They met in San Jose I think, and I was born in Southern California, in Woodland Hills.
Nina: You’ve openly spoken about the conflict that you had with your parents growing up, both on your YouTube channel and on your blog, in terms of career paths that they wanted you to take. Tell us a little bit about this conflict and how you overcame that.
Cassey: My parents really wanted me to be a doctor and I think with a lot of Asian families, certain career paths are more highly respected than others. They either wanted me and my sister to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer something like that. But because I’m a lot more creative, that really wasn’t my passion. I told them that I wanted to get into fashion design because I’ve been drawing sketches and clothing designs ever since I was around six years old. I remember when I told my dad, at the age of 16, that I wanted to go to fashion school, he looked me straight in the eye and told me:
“No. You’re not going to do that because you’re not going to make money, you’re going to be unsuccessful and on top of that you’re not going to have any friends.”
He really did not want me to go in that direction and so I eventually went to college to get a degree in biology and a minor in business. My heart really just wasn’t in to it and so right before I was about to take the MCAT, to apply to all the medical schools, I decided to sabotage myself by dropping myself out of the last class I needed to take the MCAT, which was organic chemistry. Because I had tried to tell my parents: “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this,” they wouldn’t listen to me and I wanted to switch majors and they wouldn’t let me, so I said: “Okay, fine, then I’m going to do the last thing to ruin my perfect academic schedule and record and everything.” And they were horrified. But when I did that I felt freedom and I got internships in fashion, and I pursued a totally different career path after college, which was in fashion buying. It was the closest I could get to design without having an actual design degree. And that’s how I ended up in Boston for a year, working my way up through fashion buying, but that didn’t end so well because that wasn’t where my heart truly laid.
Nina: From there, how did Blogilates come to be?
Cassey: Alright, so Blogilates actually started right after college. I had already been teaching pilates for a few years while I was in college, and I had been doing Pilates ever since I was 15 years old. I was the only person teaching POP Pilates, which is Pilates to pop music, anywhere. When I was moving from my first job to Boston, my students were like “What are we going to do without you? No one else teaches this class.” So I thought, maybe I’ll upload a video to this website called YouTube and they could do it if they missed me. And so that’s what I did, and it was really only for like 40 people, and the next time I looked at the video there were thousands of views and hundreds of comments and I was like “Whoa, there’s something else going on here.” People were asking for more butt workouts, more ab workouts, arm workouts and I as I slowly listened to what would soon become the poster audience - that’s how Blogilates came to be.
Nina: Why was Blogilates something you felt like you needed to create? Why is it important to you?
Cassey: For me, making working out fun is what POP Pilates and Blogilates is all about. I don’t want anyone to feel like working out is a chore. I want it to be something that people really look forward to. For me, that means adding music, making something feel like a dance, making it a community where you’re working out with your friends. That is what really keeps you accountable and keeps it as a real lifestyle. Adding music to my workouts worked for me, and as I suppose you can see over the past several years it’s really worked for other people too, with pop pilates. That’s what I really hope to continue to do, is to make fitness fun, bring more people together and that’s why when I partnered up wit 24 Hour Fitness in the U.S., we were able to roll out this entire instructor certification program. Now people can take classes all over the U.S., and all over the world, and they don’t have to be in their room looking at a laptop, which is good too, it’s a great way to get started, but it’s all about that real people connection. So when you go to class you meet the lady next to you, or the stay at home mom in the front, or maybe the CEO who walked in after a long day of work, doesn’t matter. You meet all these different people, who really like strip down, you’re here to workout, and you make these real life connections, who eventually will become your friends. I think that’s what’s really important, are those relationships.
Nina: Yeah. And I know here in Toronto, I was actually looking at where some of the classes are, we do have two downtown Toronto for our listeners, on Gerrard Street and one in Hamilton as well, which isn’t too far from here.
Cassey: Oh, that’s awesome!
Nina: I saw those when I was looking up classes on the website, through the map. And one of the things for me that I think is the best part about Blogilates is, there is no gym membership fee, no equipment and it’s in the comfort of your own home. For me that’s a really big thing, because I don’t want to have to worry about waking up, in the winter especially, and driving to the gym.
Cassey: Ugh, I know what you mean!
Nina: Blogilates isn’t just a YouTube channel but it’s also opened a lot of doors for you in a few other industries too. Tell me a little bit about that.
Cassey: Because of the amazing community that we have, and because I constantly look for feedback, I want to integrate people’s ideas, I was able to launch a clothing line called Pop Flex Active. We actually just launched our fourth collection last week, called Dusty Blossom, inspired by hues of blush, periwinkle and midnight blue. All those colours and most of the designs were selected by the fans on Instagram, so it’s been really fun to design with everybody together because it’s made for the community, from the beginning. From the very first comment of someone asking me to make a video, every thing that we’ve done is for the community. In that aspect, we’ve launched a successful clothing line. I have another workout program called PIIT28, which is Pilates Intense Interval Training, it’s only a 28-minute workout that you can do at home and that’s been really great for transformations as well. Just super quick, again at home, no equipment and people really love that one as well. If you really want to get your cardio in, in a quick amount of time, it’s super intense but it’s good. We have books and DVD’s and things, it’s just been really amazing seeing the brand grow, thanks to the fans. Honestly, none of this would be possible without the Popsters.
Nina: Cheap clean eats as well too, that was another thing you kind of ventured into, and that also was pretty helpful as well. Especially for students like me, who are struggling a little bit financially, cheap clean eats is definitely something that’s really helpful to keep you on track, and on a budget, which is pretty amazing.
Cassey: Yeah, I think there’s this misconception that being healthy means you have to like drink expensive green juices, and get all those expensive ingredients, only shop at Whole Foods. It’s not true! You can shop anywhere. I mean to be honest, not that I’m recommending this, but you could get food even at the 99 cent store, they have fresh produce. Or go to the farmer’s market. You can garden your own food. You do not have to spend a fortune. Oh, in fact, if you just buy seasonal fruits and veggies, you’re already saving money because that stuff goes on sale. I think it’s really important for people to get creative with their food, and not to make excuses because you can say anything you want to say that being healthy is expensive, but it’s just not true. You can save money at the grocery stores, by cooking by yourself, and you can do free workout videos at home…so really, it can be extremely inexpensive.
Nina: Obviously, being so well recognized worldwide and being a visible minority, I’m sure there have been times people have left some not so great comments, or maybe even at meetups said some negative things to you, in terms of you being a visible minority. How do you personally deal with that?
Cassey: I’ve never had anyone give me a negative comment in real life, luckily. Any negative comments usually come from behind a screen name because that’s very easy to do, and also very cowardly to do. It doesn’t usually have to do with my minority…well, I guess in some ways it does. Because people will make comments about my body, and the way it looks. A lot of times it’s about the fact that why do I do butt workouts if I don’t even have a butt. But given my genes and the way my family looks, you know you go down my history and stuff, most Asians, at least for me in my family, don’t have a big butt. I just don’t. When you’re saying that it’s almost like saying “Oh My Gosh, your eyes are so small.” It’s like well, I just don’t have big eyes, what do you want me to do? But I have a strong butt, I can squat a lot, I can get real low, can you? I think in that sense, if you connect it that way, people may be attacking my heritage without even knowing they’re attacking my heritage. But at the end of the day for me, I don’t even want to be known as “Oh Cassey, she’s the Asian fitness instructor.” It’s about: “This is Cassey Ho, she is a fitness instructor.” Period.
My heritage is just where I come from, but it’s not going to define where I’m going to go.
Nina: Exactly. So where can listeners go to check out your workouts, for more information on classes, Pop Flex Activewear, Cheap Clean Eats…
Cassey: Okay, well you can just check out my website and you can find me on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, everywhere, same thing. If you want to check out the clothing line, and you can check out all our new clothes! And there is a rewards program, so you can sign up in order to start earning points towards your free active wear.