I didn’t get here alone: a Q+A w/ Michelle Rivas

Sinclair: In 2014, you were featured in Latina’s 30 Under 30: The Hottest Young  Latinos to Watch, along with all-stars like Bella Thorne,  Demi Lavato and Bruno Mars. Specifically, your accomplishments with your website, The Healthy Latina, were highlighted. Where are you with Healthy Latina in 2018, and what impact do you hope your work has on others?

Michelle: When Latina Magazine included me in their list, I was speechless! There were so many amazing (and actually famous people) at the red carpet event in Los Angeles that the impostor syndrome hit hard. There’s nothing sexy or glamorous about writing about health. It was very surreal. I even brought my older sister as my date.

Now, my blog has evolved to include a bit more about my life. In the beginning, my writing was very focused on basic health information. I started The Healthy Latina because there was, and still is, a lack of Latinx representation in mainstream health information online, in the media and in clinical resources. I believe strongly in cultural competency when it comes to healthcare, it’s actually what I did my capstone on in grad school.

My blog now includes healthy recipes, gym roundups, overviews of my experiences in exercise, and information on health conditions that impact the Latinx community. I am an ambassador for Act Against AIDS and do a lot of writing on heart health. Both impact the Latinx community disproportionately.

I also learned early on that if you want something out of life, you need to make it for yourself. If you have a goal, there will be no one pushing you to succeed, it has to come from you. – Michelle Rivas

Sinclair: I was really touched by your Open Letter to Young Latinas. It hit home on how people will often impose and project what they think is best for our lives and journeys.  In it you wrote, “Sadly, many of the same reactions will come from your family too. They will tell you that you can’t have it all. That you should be thinking of them. That starting a family and staying close to home is what you need. You know yourself better. You can have it all. You just need to work for it. And darling, the life you build for yourself will be beautiful. And they will understand. They just can’t see the entire picture yet. You have to show them what’s best for you. They’ll be thrilled and so proud of you. Just have patience.” How have you been able to navigate the expectations of others in your own career and journey?

Michelle: Thank you! Navigating my career and journey as a writer, educator and communicator wasn’t easy. My sister and I were the first ones in our family to go to a four-year college. Navigating the financial aspect, emotional aspect, and then the actual work was very difficult. I also always had multiple jobs during school to pay for rent and food. I look back on those times and wonder how I made ends meet.

I also learned early on that if you want something out of life, you need to make it for yourself. If you have a goal, there will be no one pushing you to succeed, it has to come from you. I always hated being bored, so I made sure to fill my time with things that would only help me progress. Even now, I’ve set a goal for myself of writing 200 words per day. Sometimes the biggest part of progress is just movement. Movement builds momentum and soon enough, you have progress.

I also have always sought out people who want to help lift you up. In internships, at work, at school, in my personal life. I adopted a motto of “leave what no longer serves you.” I’ve been blessed with amazing people in my life and I try to give back as much as possible. It also helps that I have an insanely supportive partner. When you find people in life who want what’s best for you (defined by you), those are the relationships to nurture.

Rivas 3
“If you want something out of life, you need to make it for yourself. If you have a goal, there will be no one pushing you to succeed, it has to come from you.” – Michelle Rivas

 

Sinclair: All things considered, what’s one piece of advice you have for young Latinas today?

Michelle: “Leave what no longer serves you.” That’s been something I live by and it’s the perfect way to release yourself from the negativity that can creep into your life. Everything should be up for evaluation, including negative habits you have for yourself.

Sinclair: What are you reading right now that you think others should check out? What made you pick it up in the first place? 

Michelle:  I just finished The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*CK. I was complaining to a friend about feeling stuck and uninspired and she recommended it. It was a good reminder to focus your energy in the right areas.

I read a few books at a time, and am currently switching back between:

  • In the Time of the Butterflies – It’s a historical fiction novel that’s about a badass group of sisters working to overthrow the government in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo dictatorship.
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – I read a quote from the author, Erika Sanchez, and knew I had to read it. She said, “my character is not for everybody, she’s a snarky brown girl, just as I was. A lot of agents didn’t understand that kind of person. There’s this idea that minorities are supposed to be model minorities. I think that is unfair.”
  • Turtles All the Way Down – I know that John Green writes for young adults, but I’ve loved him since his first novel, Looking for Alaska. This one is his latest.

 

Sinclair: What’s one project that you’re working on right now that’s both exciting and challenging?

Michelle:  It’s scary to even put this in writing! I am studying for the GRE and applying to PhD programs this Winter. I ultimately want to study and research health and human behavior, specifically health disparities. I took the GRE years ago during my undergrad and I’m hoping to get high scores and into a fully-funded program.

Sinclair: What’s we often get wrong when talking about health and wellness in the Latinx community?

Michelle: There’s an assumption among the health community that health should be a “one-size fits all approach.” And that’s not how health works. Many people get a medical diagnosis and are sent home with medication only, but there’s no one teaching them why it’s important to adhere to the medication, lifestyle changes to implement, how they can advocate for themselves, support groups and communities they can participate in, the list goes on. In my mind, the biggest issues in healthcare stem from systemic lack of access and resources. And it’s difficult for Latinx to thrive in a system that was not developed with their needs in mind. It’s the same for any diverse community.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Michelle:  The feeling of guilt. As a woman, and a Latina, I have always felt the need to say “I’m sorry.” And I’ll say it when I don’t need to. So I’m working toward apologizing only when necessary. Like if someone talks over me, it’s not on me to apologize. And that’s a hard thing to unlearn.

Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

Michelle: I always go to my fiance, my sister and my family. My fiance is the biggest hype man. My sister is my sounding board and my voice of reason. My family keeps me grounded and loves to celebrate all the small and big successes. We have several group chats, one of just my immediate family and one with my aunts and uncles in it. I’m incredibly grateful for all of them on the hard days.

View this post on Instagram

Floating through this week like… Really though, this bachelorette trip to Austin was the first time I have ever felt comfortable wearing a swimsuit since early childhood. . I can’t remember any other time and it broke my heart and made me proud at the same time. I’ve put an insane amount of work in this year to help heal my body. . I’ve spent years and years on medications to help my allergies, eczema and asthma and started approaching my diet differently. Not only was I not afraid to show off my skin (almost 100% flare up free) but I felt confident in my body almost 20 pounds lighter. . I’ll be the first one to say that diets for weight loss don’t work. It has to be a lifestyle change for anything to happen. And here I am with a lifestyle I’m proud of and a new relationship with food. And a killer tan from my backless swimsuit 😏 . #whenstheweekend #takemeback #austin #lifestyle #healthylatina #healthylifestyle #health #allergies #autoimmune #paleo #paleodiet #eczema #healthylatina #fitness

A post shared by Michelle | The Healthy Latina (@healthylatina) on

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Michelle:  I made the switch this past year from a large healthcare agency to a small, family-owned startup business. I’ve always had a ton of resources and a large team to work with and this change has taken me completely out of my comfort zone. There are a million things to work on at any given moment, so prioritizing my time has been the biggest challenge. I’ve been asking myself – what are the things I can reasonably accomplish in one day that will have the biggest impact?

In my mind, the biggest issues in healthcare stem from systemic lack of access and resources. And it’s difficult for Latinx to thrive in a system that was not developed with their needs in mind. It’s the same for any diverse community. – Michelle Rivas

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Michelle:  My fiance and I plan a themed dinner once a month as a way to try and stay in and cook more before the wedding. We settle on a type of cuisine (Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, BBQ, etc) and pick a few recipes. We’ll also use the time in the kitchen to make the wedding decisions. It’s a nice way to wind down, enjoy some quality time together and still feel productive. And we’re getting better at cooking, so that helps too.

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?

Michelle: This morning. I went to a workout class with one of my girlfriends and came home and sat on the floor with my dog. She’s 90 pounds and the biggest baby and she loves to just lay on you and get pet.

Rivas 2
“When you find people in life who want what’s best for you (defined by you), those are the relationships to nurture.” – Michelle Rivas

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Michelle:  Politics. Every day I get more and more pissed off. And it’s so frustrating because you feel so helpless. But I’ve been inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and I trust that there’s a movement and a shift happening. I just want it to happen faster.

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Michelle:  I was working almost 60 hours a week at a large communications firm, in grad school full-time, had moved to a city alone, and just gone through a break up with a long-term boyfriend. I questioned everything about myself during this time and had a lot of days where I wondered what the hell I was doing.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Michelle:   My unshakable values are respect, honesty and kindness. My dad always taught me that respect should always be the number one thing. Without respect, there’s no trust, there’s no love, there’s no honesty.

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why? 

Michelle:  

  • @massy.arias – I met Massiel “Massy” Arias at the Latina 30 Under 30 Awards and have been a huge fan ever since! She’s such an inspiring trainer and just became a new mom. Her posts are so raw and real and I love everything she shares!
  • @HereisGina – Gina Rodriguez can do no wrong in my book. She’s a huge fitness and health advocate and is changing to conversation for Latinas in Hollywood. If you haven’t seen Jane the Virgin, you need to catch up ASAP!
  • @GlennonDoyle – I attended a Together Live event and Glennon and her wife, Abby Wambach, shared their story. I’ve been following ever since. She cares so much about so many things and just inspires you to be a better version of yourself. And sometimes that means taking a nap as a form of self-care and then getting up and fighting for what’s right.
  • @ChinaeAlexander – You know those people online that you know you’d be friends with in real life? That’s how I feel about Chinae. She’s all about keeping feminism intersectional, loving your flaws, embracing your curves in fitness and finding the perfect shade of red lipstick.

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Michelle:  “Be the hero you needed when you were younger.” I forget who said that, but it rings true. There is someone out there that needs you to help pave a pathway for them. You’re strong, capable and worthy. Seek out a mentor and try something new. Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. I still feel like I have so much to learn about life and my career. It’s a journey and these are small steps leading you to where you need to be. Keep moving forward.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Michelle: I didn’t get here alone.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Michelle: Never stop learning, loving or exploring. Prioritize your health. Love your family. Forgive yourself and others. Laugh as much as possible. Be kind.

💎💎💎

Michelle Rivas is an educator, writer, and founder of The Healthy Latina – a Chicago-based health information and lifestyle blog. She started her blog in 2012 when her grandma was going through cancer treatment. Michelle went on to get her master’s in health communication and has been writing about health ever since!

Learn more about Michelle and connect: Twitter | Website

Featured Awesomeness: Michelle says, “I’m running the Chicago Marathon for Girls on the Run. It’s an after-school organization that inspires young girls to stay active, focus on their health and teaches them about positive self-image. If you support that, you can donate here.”

🎁 This post contains affiliate links.