When Laila Ali told people she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps—straight into the boxing ring—the first thing they said to her was, “You’re too pretty to box.” But with five major titles and a casual undefeated record under her World Champion belt, she spent her entire 18-year career showing everyone just how wrong they were.
But before she could confront all the negativity from people who wanted to cut her down, Ali first had to learn how to knock out her own doubting thoughts. “A lot of times, we have a little voice in our own heads that eats away at us. Especially as women, we’re always judging ourselves and people are always judging us, and it chips away at you,” she says. Even badass boxers suffer from imposter syndrome, it seems.
“A lot of times, we have a little voice in our own heads that eats away at us. Especially as women, we’re always judging ourselves and people are always judging us, and it chips away at you.”
In the ring, Ali has to literally stand strong while absorbing blow after a blow—why should facing an internal adversary be any different? “Boxing has helped me overall with my perseverance and determination and just letting me know that I have that champion inside me, and that when I set my mind to something I can do whatever it takes,” she says. “When you have a certain self-confidence in you, it helps you push through in so many different ways. Even when that little voice is saying, ‘You can’t do it’ or, ‘It’s too hard,’ I fight it and I push through and I overcome.”
Now, Ali has partnered with TJ Maxx’s Maxx You project to teach other women to embrace their own inner champions. “It’s just really about empowering women, because we need it now more than ever,” she says. “[Women] can look at a woman who they consider to be so strong—such as myself—and I’m able to say to them, ‘Look: I have struggles too, I have my weaknesses too. But I’ve been able to overcome them, and let me show them how you can overcome yours.'”
“A lot of times, we go to other people for advice. But we need to go within and be still.”
Though stepping into the ring is her go-to for stress release (“If I’m hitting the heavy bag, I’m getting that energy out of myself and taking it out on the bag,” she says), Ali also relies on her regular meditation practice to stay centered. “I like to slow down and meditate and listen to my own intuition when I need guidance and need clarity,” she explains. “A lot of times, we go to other people for advice. But we need to go within and be still. The more you know yourself, the more you can deal with the obstacles you’re going to face along the way.”
Of course, in addition to being good for your mental strength, boxing is a crazy-good full-body workout: Check out our beginners guide for getting into the ring, then book yourself a sesh at this ladies-only boxing gym.