Massy Arias wasn't always the ultra-fit queen of Instagram fitness inspo she is today.
In fact, when she began her own fitness journey back in 2012 as a way to overcome a debilitating depression, she could barely pull off three measly push-ups. But she kept at it, striving to perfect her form with measurable improvements every time she entered a gym. And now, seven years later, she's not only got herself a set of abs that could cut glass, but a following of nearly 3 million on IG, known as the MA Warriors, who turn to her for advice on how to get their bodies tight and their minds right through her program, the MA 30-Day Challenge.
Along the way, the Dominican Republic native previously known online as MankoFit has written ebooks, become an ambassador for Target's C9 Champion brand and CoverGirl, welcomed baby girl Indi into the world with husband Stefan Williams, and earned co-signs from the likes of Gabrielle Union, SZA and Kehlani.
Here, Massy exclusively answers all our questions about what it takes to become an influencer, stay an influencer, and stay sane in the process. And bless her, because we had a lot of them.
E! News: Tell us exactly how you got started?
Massy: I stumbled into health and wellness based on a few factors but depression was the catapult for everything that you see today. So, I can send you that bio. I started my fitness journey as a way to beat depression and I was living in New York City at the time. I opened Instagram in 2011 and at that point it was just a filter app and then they started adding a couple more features and I opened Instagram because it was a new social media platform and I just wanted to connect with other people at that time I had taken down Facebook all these other social media platforms that are not major today. I open Instagram and little by little I started sharing my journey.
One day, I pulled this picture of my stomach and at that time I was really unhealthy. At that time, I posted it and all of a sudden it goes to the popular page and I started to get a flood of people but basically I started sharing by journey and people saw me from an ordinary person who was sharing her journey of depression and how fitness was an outlet that saved her life. I started posting everything you see, even today on my Instagram. There is no production behind what I post, from the get go it has been an organic approach to health and wellness in which I show people who I am and what I am trying to do. At this point of my career, the goal is to help individuals change their lifestyle the same way I did. Social media has changed completely, especially now, and I still try to keep the same integrity because I am speaking to the 99 percent, the everything person that is real and wants to make a change. That is how I started, one person told another person and I got this massive following. I don't collaborate or do anything crazy. I am just following my passion and doing what I think I am meant to do.
What does the term "influencer" mean to you?
When I started getting a ton of followers, there was a sense of responsibility. This was about either years ago, once I started getting a following, I started realizing I have power to influence and there's no way I can influence positively if I don't know what I'm doing or 100 percent sure of my line of work. So when you ask me what the word influencer means to me, I have a platform in which people are looking at me 24/7 and I have the power of influencing someone. How I use my platform and how the consumer from looking out interprets my account, or interprets influencer is up to them, but for me it means you have the power to influence and you have all these eyes on you and you are appealing to them. I influence a lot and that's what it means to me.
Who do you follow? Who are you typically keeping up with?
Trevor Noah, Shaun King, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland. It's hard to keep up especially when you're busy but right now I am in tunnel vision so I really don't keep up with people so I just chose wisely the information I get. I keep up with my clients because I have to see how they are doing, I keep up with the news. I love to get my news in a funny way, so I keep up with Trevor Noah and John Oliver.
For someone that is following you, behind the scenes of the content that is being created, what is one thing that you wish they knew when they are following you?
I just want to stay as organic as possible, everything they see. I actually handle my own social media. What most people may not know is that all the content that I put out is all organic, there is no production, I handle all of my own social media and I do need an assistant. But everything they see/ the content I create is based on the feedback I get. So, say I go on a live and I see general questions about one particular topic, my next week I may focus on those topics. A lot of the content I put out is based on what my following continues to ask for. The content that I create is simple, real and I want people to consume it in a real way, and I try and be as organic and real as possible. I see my demographic of girls that are 14 years old to men and women in their 60s, so I am pretty cognizant, not that I have to be a role model bu,t even before I had a daughter, I put out content so people know life isn't perfect like society is portraying. I want them to see when my hair is messed up, or when I am tired. It comes down to what is real. This is what continues to do well. The energy you put out in the world is the energy you get back.
Do you think there is a big shift with Instagram content and influencers in general from the pretty photos to "real" content? Do you think the pretty, aesthetically pleasing photos will not be a phenomenon anymore?
I hope not. There are a lot of trends happening right now and I feel like a lot of the content being put out is entertainment. At this point, for what I do, things are getting out of control with these huge productions. Teenagers up to late twenties, they control this market of social media. They are the ones who are always on their phones and what is happening is their attention is changing. Things are getting out of control on social media. I just hope the purists like me stay afloat and if people can appreciate that kind of content because we need more of it. Things are becoming too synthetic and it is sending out the wrong message to women and men, and I am not going to be part of that. I haven't been the person to follow trends, I just do my own thing.
Was there a moment where you thought "Oh my gosh, I am Insta-famous" and what happened in that moment?
I don't like that type of attention. I am really simple. If you see me walking down the streets, you will see me with no make-up. I am a very simple human who just happens to glam up occasionally like Beyonce. But I am really simple and I think the whole social media number or the following is sort of your resume now. There are so many people walking around thinking a number or following makes you better than someone else. So when people call me Insta-famous I get really weird, when I am called an influencer, just because everything that I do is more than just gaining following for social media. It is my livelihood and my business. It is turning into a philosophy and a lifestyle. When we tie everything together, because everything I build for my business will all be on one concise platform because we are now big enough to help our communities which is something I said I was going to do. Eight years ago, when I had 30,000 followers, I made the tradition of saying, "What am I doing?" I questioned how I could continue to follow my passion of fitness and helping people. I don't think given an extra five million followers, I would ever feel Insta-famous. At that moment, it happened and I decided to educate myself to make sure I was putting out the right information. It was 8 years ago that I had 30,000 followers, and I thought "Oh my God!"
What's the one piece of advice that you would give someone who is just starting out and wants to have a presence in this space?
Be authentic because there are too many people following trends and doing the same thing and that is how you don't stand out. You can only stand out if you have a message that is different. By being different, I mean follow your own gut. We are all so different and so alike, we all have gifts. If anyone comes in trying to have a presence in a space that is so crowded and you are just following someone else's approach because they are successful, you won't stand out. Being authentic and being real has been getting a little more attention in this space and by doing that you can make a presence. Finding something that you are really good at, carry it over and make sure that you are an expert at that and that will separate you from the rest.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about influencers in general?
That just because you have a following, you know what you are doing or you know what you are talking about. Or just because that person has a following that you are a guru and you're not.
Can you explain what your platform is about? Also, how do you decide what content you are going to share with your followers and what you keep to yourself?
I mean, even at this point there are so many things that I have to learn. Just when you think you know something, there are levels to it. I am not going to consider myself a health guru because there are so many different aspects of health that make up health in general, I am still learning. I don't ever want to be the smartest in the room, I want to continue learning. Especially in my field, information changes. Every year data is new. I am a student and I continue to learn. My platform focuses on helping people change their lifestyle. If you were to ask me, what is your specialty? Well it is taking someone who is ordinary—not in a negative way, just someone who doesn't believe in themselves—I take one person through my program and from there I help them change their lifestyle. I don't believe in dieting. I don't diet. I change my perspective and the way I eat. My entire message is to help people change their lives all together. I believe food is medicine.
I choose my content based on what people want to see most. Showing people your life and educating them, it is very organic. What you see is what you get. I base what I post on their feedback. Sometimes I do [an] hour live and I get someone asking me constant questions. You have to play the cards you are being dealt. There are so many people who follow me and ask me questions about depression and how I got through it and what not. People today get depressed based on how many likes they get or attention. This needs to stop. This determines what content I put out and I hope to have a platform where I can have these discussions.
Is there anything that is off limits for you?
My family. My close family is off limits because they are in the Caribbean and you never know. I wouldn't want to expose my family to any type of attention. Because they are in a third world country, you never know. It gets pretty crazy how people invade your privacy.
Can you give an example?
Right now I live in an apartment complex. We had a lady follow us all the way from one shoot to my home, and for a week straight this person was following us around the neighborhood. It's kind of gnarly. I go to Disney with my family. I love my following and my fans, but there is a time and a place for everything. For me, when I am in an intimate moment, the moments I cherish, privacy is violated. For example, you're at a restaurant and you're eating with your family and as you are eating someone comes and says, "Hey, I never do this but..." It's really hard, and for those that don't have that much attention on them they feel like we are asking for attention. Nobody tells you that having this exposure is making you be seen everywhere. I have had pictures taken of me without my knowledge everywhere I go. I am a regular human being, nothing separates us. We are made of the same tissue. It is a blessing, but sometimes it's a lot
When you have any downtime from all the craziness, what is your self-care go-to?
I like to go get massages. I like to spend time with my daughter. that is how I unplug. No phones. It's just her and I bonding, just us. I like to get my nails done, my eyebrows done. I go and get a massage to unplug.
How do you balance being a mother and working in this space? Do you ever give yourself time off to be a mom?
Right now, it's crazy. It fluctuates based on the time of the year and projects I am working on. It has taken a year and a half to have a platform that is what I want it to be. There is no one doing the programming for me, there is so much work and people think everything happens instantly. Because my content is organic, I may have to record content in advance just so I can keep up. At some point, I cannot keep up and it is extremely stressful. I sometimes go on binges and vacations where I don't use Instagram and I do believe my following has fans that love me and will understand me. I don't care about algorithms as much as others. If you start unfollowing because I don't post as much, you are not a supporter. I just try to handle my projects, and it is extremely difficult to handle everything. Everyone in this space needs to get real.
Do you have specific rituals in order to balance your time?
Oh yeah. If I am going to post something tomorrow, I start implementing this one thing I do. I record my content the day before and post it the next day. So from 9-10:30, I take my daughter to gymnastics, so people are seeing the day before. And, because of the whole situation that happened to me, I say, "Oh I am going to Runyon Canyon," but I am not there the day I post it. That is something that some people may want to implement. If you want to put out content and be there for your child, you have to strategize. I take her nap times and engage a lot. I sometimes post when she naps so I am able to get some work done. But basically, from 10:30am-3pm, she's with the nanny. I have so many amazing individuals around me who continue to challenge me, inspire me and help me. It is very important that if you want to become an influencer. You need people around that will empower you and support you. I have a great team around me, starting with my brother and sister-in-law.
Is there a product or anything specific that you want to promote?
In mid-October, we launch the app. It is not a cookie-cutting app. We are going to start with this platform, making better movers. When you look at my IG and I get comments saying, "Your form is amazing. How did you get there?" My whole message is changing people's lifestyles and making them better movers, making them confident and mentally healthy. The aesthetic part will come on its own. Hopefully, for the next year, there will be more than just me as your personal trainer. There will be dancing and all the forms of training. I have a lot of amazing friends in the industry that specialize in different parts of the industry. It will start with an individual showcasing their talent, and they are gurus at what they do. The whole goal is to get people to move. Within the app, there will be over 200,000 recipes, so whatever you guys want in terms of Mediterranean food or what falls under Keto or popular recipes that are low-carb, or high-carb for training—it is going to be awesome. It is going to take a year to have all of the programming that I would like to have. It is going to be amazing, not just any other app. We are calling it "Empowered" because we want to empower others to do something new and move and eat healthy. Giving them options and different styles of movement. We want to give tips on how to be healthy physically, mentally and gaining confidence.