The fitness influencer behind the mega-popular Blogilates fitness channel on YouTube is defending herself against critics who say her announcement that she is trying to actively lose weight is concerning for her personally and harmful to the body positivity movement at large.
Cassey Ho, a thirtysomething fitness blogger from California, founded Blogilates in 2009. Now she has more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube, where her at-home workout videos have been viewed almost 700 million times, and another 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
A certified Pilates instructor, Ho blends traditional Pilates movements with fun music that viewers can try for free from their own homes. She often preaches in her videos that exercise is not just about how you look but how you feel.
In a recent video, Ho instructed viewers on beginner ab exercises and discussed the reasons she loved working out, including that it makes her happy, keeps her mentally sharp, and gives her energy.
Ho has also been an outspoken advocate against body-shaming and preaches self-acceptance. You may remember this video of hers, which went pretty viral a few years ago.
But over the past several years, Ho began to pull back from blogging on her website after feeling she couldn't write about anything without receiving criticism.
“I've always been honest, but for the past several years I haven’t said everything," she told BuzzFeed News. "I started being really vanilla to not hurt anyone's feelings."
Recently, Ho went on a retreat where she reexamined her relationship with blogging. She said she "realized that I wasn’t being authentic" because she was self-censoring.
That sentiment morphed into what Ho calls her "90 Day Challenge," a "personal journey I want to embark on to get in the best shape of my life — mentally and physically."
For the "mental" part of the journey, Ho will try to blog every day for 90 days, without worrying about what people think. For the "physical" part, she'll attempt to lose 16 pounds and slim down to 20% body fat.
The impetus for the physical challenge came when Ho said she recently stepped on a scale and found she weighed more than she ever had: 136 pounds. Ho is 5 feet 5 inches tall, which is considered a normal weight for her height. By changing her diet and exercise routine, she hopes to drop to 120 pounds.
Ho anticipated that some people would criticize her for speaking frankly about her weight and weight loss goals.
"What is body negative about getting healthier, increasing your confidence, feeling happier, and getting stronger? Hmm. Nothing," she wrote.
Ho's goals and admission that she is actively trying to lose weight divided her followers and sparked a discussion online about whether body acceptance inherently means not focusing on weight loss.
Some followers cheered her on.
"I loved your post!" wrote one. "Yes, do it for you! I agree there is nothing negative about having goals for yourself."
Many could really relate to her feelings of being uncomfortable with a little weight gain, and said there was nothing wrong with trying to change that.
"Feeling like you’re at the worst point physically (and with that, mentally) you’ve been in in a while is a difficult thing to process," wrote one. "It takes time and energy to not only make health changes, but also to become more loving to yourself."
Other people said they had struggled with eating disorders or disordered eating but saw no problem with her posts.
Others, however, commented that they were disappointed in her announcement, particularly because Ho had focused so much on the scale.
"I’ve looked up to you for years because I suffered from disordered eating and I felt like you helped me love fitness and not making it all about weight," one person wrote on her blog. "I’m heart broken you feel like you want to do this to yourself."
Another said they felt "disappointed."
"Setting an arbitrary number as a ‘goal’ seems to fly in the face of all the great and meaningful self-love that you’ve been teaching us," they wrote. "I don’t think you can realistically practice body positivity whilst also practicing restriction to fit a goal of trying to shrink your body...for just the purpose of reaching a number on a scale."
Many said they thought Ho looked fit and healthy, and were confused about why she felt she needed to lose weight.
"A public figure with such a huge following should not be posting that 'she gained 14 lbs' like it is a crime when you look fit and healthy," wrote one person on Instagram.
Some fans wrote they were worried that Ho was struggling with disordered eating and feeling like she had to achieve an ideal weight that she couldn't maintain.
"i'm honestly very worried about you," wrote one fan on Instagram. "I really want to believe that this is ok but deep down I don't think what you're doing is sustainable because you're placing unrealistic expectations on how your body should look."
Ho told BuzzFeed News she had mixed feelings about the comments.
“I think it’s nice that people are concerned about my mental health, but I also find it really offensive," she said, adding that people should not try to diagnose others with a mental disorder via the internet.
Ho addressed the criticisms in follow-up blog posts on days two and three of her challenge, acknowledging that she has struggled with disordered eating in the past and that she had worked hard to have a better relationship with food.
"For the record, I am in a very happy and healthy mental state that I have worked VERY hard for," she wrote.
Ho told BuzzFeed News she appreciates constructive criticism, but not when it goes too far.
“Your words have so much power, so I would caution people to be careful what they say, because you're talking to someone real," she said.
Ho said she is a big believer in being body positive and changing beauty ideals.
"I don't even look like the average fitness instructor, and I love my body and what I can do," she said.
And she wants to challenge herself to start, as she wrote on her blog, "getting healthier, increasing your confidence, feeling happier, and getting stronger." In her mind, that is still being body positive.
“Weight loss and body positivity can go hand and hand, as long as you love your body and are grateful for your body every step of the way," she said.