Laila Ali: People Told Me I Was ‘Too Pretty’ To Be a Boxer

Laila Ali
Laila Ali teamed up with T.J.Maxx to launch "The Maxx You Project" in New York City on April 25, 2017. Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Laila Ali didn’t become a successful multihyphenate without a few struggles. “When I was as young as 17 and I first decided that I wanted to box, everyone was like, ‘You’re too pretty to box!’ or ‘Why would you want to be a fighter? Women don’t fight,’” the former professional boxer, 39, tells Stylish by Us Weekly exclusively. “They wouldn’t just accept that I wanted to be a fighter — because I wasn’t someone that they envisioned could or would be a fighter.”

As she continued to grow her career and aspirations, Ali still couldn’t hide from subtle discrimination and stereotyping. “I decided to rebrand myself and started doing television hosting and now I’m doing a cookbook. [People say], ‘Wait a minute, but you’re a boxer, an athlete,’” says the mom of Sydney, 6, and Curtis, 8. “So I’m like, ‘Well,I am, but I’m all of these things!”

To ensure other young women don’t feel limited to just one role, Ali has partnered with T.J. Maxx to spearhead their “Maxx You Project,” which aims to help women break the stereotypes that hold them back. Ali dished with Stylish on the collaboration, finding confidence and the beauty products she won’t leave the house without.

Stylish: What is the goal of this project?

Laila Ali: It’s really about helping women break through those stereotypes and pursue all of their unique passions. T.J. Maxx interviewed hundreds of women in their store last year and found out that 80 percent of women feel stereotyped by society. That’s when they launched the Maxx You Project, which is aimed at helping women break those stereotypes and embrace their personal aspirations that make them unique.

Stylish: Why do you think that number is so high?

LA: When you think about it, It kind of makes sense. Thinking about the women that you know: your friends, sisters, mothers, we know that we are kind of stereotyped. You like sports, you’re a tomboy. There are all of these labels ,which is natural for us as a society to do, but it’s just really about reminding women of the power that we have inside of us and that you can do anything you put your mind to. You don’t want to get stuck. You don’t want to get stuck in your own mind.

Stylish: How do you ensure that your daughter doesn’t feel stuck in one role?

LA: It’s inevitable that as my daughter grows up she’s going to come into contact with what we’re talking about. It’s all about my reaction to the comments that she makes and the conversations that we have. Just making her feel like the sky is the limit and that she can do anything that she wants to. Not, “Oh no, you can’t do that,” but, “Let’s see! Let’s try it! Let’s figure it out.” Of course, being an example is the first thing because kids learn by watching what we do as parents.

Laila Ali
Laila Ali after winning by TKO against Valerie Mahfood at the Staples Center in 2003. Hector Mata/AFP/Getty Images

Stylish: How do you handle days where you don’t feel confident?

LA: The first thing to understand is that not every day is going to be a great day. First, I realize that I’m having one of those days and I let myself know that it’s OK. There still is that confidence that this too shall pass. Everyone has a different routine, but for me, I’ll meditate. Sometimes I’ll journal, I’ll work out, I’ll exercise. The main thing on the mental side is realizing that I’m having a bad day and thinking about why and then just kind of re-prioritizing and saying, “I’m going to let myself have this bad day, but tomorrow I’m going to get back on track.” That’s pretty much it. We all have them. You do have to let yourself have them and then go within and figure out why you’re having it and prevent it from happening again. Other than that, I don’t get bitter, I get better.

Stylish: What makes you feel your best?

LA: My confidence comes from preparation. When I was boxing, it was obviously the training, the mental and the physical. Eating properly, the rest, studying video of my opponent so that when I get in the ring I know that I’ve done everything that I possibly can and now all I have to do is just focus. In any of my endeavors, I do all that I need to do to prepare and then I can feel like I’m ready to perform. If I’m not prepared, I don’t feel confident. It’s something that you can have control of. You deserve what it is you’re going after as long as you’ve done the work that needs to be done to prepare for it. You can’t just have your hand out!

Stylish: Beauty-wise, do you have a go-to product that you swipe on when you want an instant pick-me-up?

LA: Products don’t really do it for me as far as my confidence, but I’ll just put it like this: I don’t leave the house without my mascara and my lipgloss. That’s just me. I don’t care if I’m going to the gym or what, I’m going to have on mascara and lipgloss! 

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