I had the pleasure of speaking with and interviewing Chinae Alexander, an Instagram icon, Adidas ambassador, and a body-positivity icon. I wanted to get Chinae in for an interview because her insight when it comes to loving yourself and owing your body better than what you're giving it, is intense and nothing short of amazing. Chinae's posts on Instagram (@chinaealexander) will have you nodding your head in agreement because the content she posts is real, and it's what people are afraid to speak openly about.
Keep reading as we go into the background of how Chinae got started in the fitness industry, her own personal battles with wellness, and why she thinks that you need to just chillax and stop stressing.
ODE TO SELF: What got you started in the fitness and wellness industry? What was the journey like and what were some of the challenges that you faced?
Chinae Alexander: I was looking for a job at ClassPass actually, and I was applying for a social media job with them and I happened to start an Instagram account. I thought it would be a good thing to show during the interview because I didn't have that much experience, "hey, at least i have this Instagram account that's centered around fitness that's not centered around my personal life." Personal account that isn't about my personal account specifically. Obviously, I didn't get the job because they told me I didn't have much experience.
The great thing was is that I kept the account going and now it's fully a lifestyle account. Definitely I cover health and wellness, but it's not specifically a fitness/wellness account anymore. It's a life and how we live our lives and I think that's actually more realistic to how wellness can fit in.
OTS: Ode to Self isn't just a boutique, but we're taking initiative to raise awareness for mental health. What were some of your challenges with mental health and how did you cope?
CA: Several years ago I was in a really bad relationship that was very hard for me. Um, and it really affected my mental state and it brought on, for the first time in my life, a lot of anxiety. And, I never struggled with anxiety before. I ended up actually fainting in public, which was really a strange thing and I thought it was blood sugar or something. I was thinking, "What is going on with my body?" [laughs].
Basically, it was panic disorder. So, it was anxiety in a difficult situation in my life and the panic was directly linked to that. I was seeing a therapist at the time, but I knew that I needed something beyond therapy because my health was really at risk. And so, I started seeing a psychiatrist along with my therapist. Then, I removed myself from that relationship and I felt like I was in a better place mentally and I really felt like I really was in a better place mentally and got off medication--continued talk therapy for a while.
I always like to share that because I feel at that time, my friends would've really seen me as a strong, happy individual, and I was. But, I think the important thing is that you can be all those things and still be struggling with mental health in general. I think it was a humbling experience for me too, because I'd never thought that I would ever have to deal with that.
And I'm glad it happened because it really helped me understand what other people are going through and it helps me with my job now.
OTS: What's your advice for others who may be going through the same thing?
CA: Listening to yourself, stop telling yourself that you're crazy, or that you can just get over it. I think for me, the most important thing--or stigma--that we have to get rid of is therapy is for someone who is broken. Therapy is maintenance. Therapy is as normal as taking a vitamin. You know, it's upkeep of your mental health. A therapist is a doctor and it helps you when you're broken.
For me, it's really important to kind of teach women that you're not weak, you're not broken, you're not messed up if you go to therapy or if you seek mental health [care]. And also, that this state of your mental health is not always the same. It changes and it's a fluid journey.
OTS: Your social media (@chinaealexander) shows so much authenticity and I think that's what draws people to you. That's what made me follow you. Have you always been this way?
CA: So, I think I've always been that way since I was little. I've always been my own person and I had parents that really encouraged me to be my own person. And I think that, like, that's partially in my spirit and I always think back to what's resonated with me and that people are truthful about their whole whole story, not just the good parts of their life or the happy things. I think that when we share fully, I think that you should definitely share the good things and the highlights, but it's also like those don't mean anything if you don't share the other stuff.
So for me, I've always been kind of an outspoken, unafraid person, but I think in the age of social media, you can be more afraid to share about your life. Not because you're afraid to show your life, but you're afraid of the vulnerability of putting yourself out there. So for me, that's just been a practice, "I'm just going to put this out there and I don't care how people react." And I think your should tell yourself that.
OTS: Alongside having a big social presence, you are an entrepreneur (checkmark), brand ambassador (checkmark), speaker (check again), and a total badass (check, check, check!!) How do you create the balance and stay sane, on top of juggling a social life and family time?
CA: In a mental way, for me, I just take responsibility for whatever I do. So, whether that's the brands I work with or, you know, the busyness of my schedule, I have to own that that's what it is and create a lot of space for myself in that. I actually love spending time alone. I am social and people oriented, which I love, but when I'm doing this job, you have to go back internally and say, "Okay, how do I recalibrate my life?"
I think the pressure of always going, going, going especially in a city like New York, you don't want to feel like you're missing out. But, really, you're just creating space for yourself to thrive and so that's a good challenge.
OTS: I remember reading an Instagram post from you once about how before, if you didn't workout in x amount of days, you'd feel guilty. But, now, not working out in 2 weeks, you felt completely fine with that! How did you ease up on being hard on yourself and what's your advice for those who have gotten off track and trying to pick themselves up again?
CA: We forget that life is very long. Like, life is very long and things take a lot of time! If you think about how many days we live in our life and we stress about what happened over the course of two weeks. Two weeks over time is nothing, like over your whole life. It's the tiniest bit, but when we're inside of it, it seems like forever.
If you think about it, even if you took a whole year off, if you get 85 or 90 of those, we always have those chances to reinvent ourselves or get back to ourselves. The thing is if we were perfectly on track all the time, we'd be robots. We live life in seasons: some seasons you're super in tune with your body, and some seasons, you're super in tune with your mind, and some seasons you're working your ass off. You don't have time to get to the gym. The thing is, I don't care what you're doing to take care of yourself, but as long as you're taking care of yourself in the process. And sometimes, that might be hitting the gym 5 days a week and sometimes in your life, it might be going to the gym once a month.
The advice I would give mostly would be to take a step back and give perspective, to also understand that every moment of your day is an opportunity to start over. You have a million chances a day.
OTS: What does your typical workout routine and diet look like and how do you maintain?
CA: What my workouts look right now is--I do workout 6 days a week, but that's not something that I think is necessary for people--it's a part of my job. Part of my job is working out, part of my job is living a fit healthy life. I wanted to start with that, because I don't want people to think that they need to work out 6 days a week.
The way my break down is, is I try to strength train/weight lift about 3x/week. Then, I do cycling class, like SoulCycle, 4-5x/week. I pepper in hot yoga to build strength, but also build flexibility and to help me feel better through the other workouts.
If there are days where my body is tired, I take a day off! And it's not a big deal.
OTS: What's your current skincare routine and favorite products or a must-have item for the summer?
CA: It's hard to say! Because I've had so many things, so it's hard to kind of nail it down to those things [favorites]. A couple of my favorite products is Caudalie Vinoperfect Serum; it makes your skin smooth. I love Peter Thomas Roth treatments and masques. I love Kate Sommerville products. Bioclarity makes a great skincare system for people that are comfortable with a systematic approach to skincare. You know, those who are "no mess, no fuss, I just want someone to tell me what to do".
I test so many things that it's really hard for me to nail down. I love masking. Origins makes really great masques. There's so many, I can't possibly nail down my favorites. If I didn't do this for a job I could probably narrow it down, but I have skincare that walks through the door, so I'm always testing products.
But, I think the main takeaway is [having a process]. Like a cleanser isn't going to clean your pores if you only wash your face three days a week. For me, it's less about products and more about process.
[Also here, I mentioned that I liked Origins products, however, I can't use theirs or Philosophy's products because I get huge boils on my cheeks and forehead.]
Skincare is individual. That's why I also don't like to tell people here's what [works] when there's products that I like. But, there are products that I like that other people that A) doesn't work for them [b) dries their skin out, [c) they hate it]. It's really hard to recommend skincare to people.
OTS: Lastly, if you were to meet your 12-year-old self as the adult, you are today, what are some words of encouragement you'd tell her?
CA: I was such a headstrong, bossy [young girl]. I always got in trouble for being headstrong and bossy at school. I remember I got sent to the principals office because I was fighting with a teacher who got mad at me for something. And, I knew I was right! I knew I was doing something right and it wasn't fair that I was being punished. And it wasn't a kid thing! It was legitimately not fair. And I fought that.
I think I would go tell that little girl, "One day, all these things about you that are within you will be your strength. People are telling you these things right now that will be problematic about you, but they will be exactly the reasons why you are successful. So just press in them and don't stop. Don't stop being bossy. Don't stop be outspoken. Don't stop fighting justice for people. Don't stop being yourself."
And, I'm proud of that little twelve-year-old. More than giving her advice, I'd probably take her advice.
We thank Chinae for this amazing and insightful interview and we think she's an amazing person to pay attention to, but also let us know that it's okay to use our voices and talk about how we truly feel.
Stay tuned for next week's special guest here for our Inspirational One on One's! Did you feel inspired? Have questions or wanted to voice your opinion? Think that we could do something else? Have a guest in mind that you'd like for us to try to interview? Leave your comments below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org!