Laila Ali is the epitome of a bada** woman. She is not only a world-renowned, undefeated boxing champion, but also a mother, wellness expert, TV host, author and so much more. This wife and mother of two is no stranger to adversity, and the ever-changing landscape of her career is a testament to her perseverance. It is no wonder that TJ Maxx invited her to spearhead their latest endeavor: The Maxx You Project.
After surveying nearly 500 women in their stores across the country, TJ Maxx found that 80 percent of women feel held back by the stereotypes that society places on them. The Maxx You Project was created to provide a learning environment for women to shatter stereotypes and traditional gender molds so that they can achieve their unique aspirations.
The “main event” of The Maxx You Project will occur in the form of a workshop led by Laila Ali and Barbara Corcoran in Los Angeles this summer. The project launched Tuesday morning (April 25), and women are encouraged to share their life goals and answer the question “How will you Maxx you?” online or in select stores until May 21 at noon. Eighty women will be selected to join Ali and Corcoran for the workshop.
“We’re going to mentor these young women and share our stories with them and really connect with them,” Ali tells VIBE. The curriculum of the workshop won’t be developed until the women are selected to ensure that they receive a truly customized experience.
A majority of the women who participated in the department store’s survey — 94 percent to be exact — felt that the stories of everyday women deserve more spotlight, as opposed to the over-saturation of celebrities in the media. Ali agrees and admits that she has personally always been inspired by the strength of “regular, working moms.”
“Single moms who worked hard jobs, but they still picked their kids up from school, were there for them, put food on the table—those are the women that I really appreciate and look up to because I saw them as being so strong and that’s the kind of mother that I want to be,” Ali says. “I want to be able to work. I want to be able to go after my dreams and my goals, but still be hands on with my children.”
On the topic of her little ones Sydney and Curtis Jr., the daughter of global boxing icon Muhammad Ali shared with us how she confronts “traditional” gender roles in her home. Specifically, in reference to a photo she posted on Instagram of her young son and daughter getting pedicures, Ali expressed that exposing her children to things at a young age is key to making sure they don’t fall victim to gender-based stereotyping. She also notes that her son loves a good massage, so the pedicure was right up his ally.
“It’s really about self care, and not caring about what other people think,” she says. “If you don’t want to get a pedicure, fine. But, I don’t think you should not do it because you’re afraid or embarrassed about what people think. That’s what I don’t like. I want everyone to do what’s in their heart to do, and it may not be the same thing that’s in my heart to do, but don’t let other people’s opinions and their thoughts stop you. Otherwise you’re never going to get to where you wanna get in life.”
And this lifestyle brand CEO is no stranger to tuning out naysayers. Especially as an outspoken woman of color, Ali has been forced to break down barriers not only as an athlete, but also as a businesswoman.
“I’m always a black woman, no matter where I go,” she says. “I don’t have my ‘Corporate Laila’ and my ‘With My Friends Laila.’ I don’t. I’m just the same. So you’re gonna have to accept me as I am…I know what works for me, I know what doesn’t, and sometimes what happens is people will paint you as someone who’s hard to deal with because they can’t get you to do the things that they want you to do. A man can do it, and it’s not a problem. But I do it, and it turns into something else.”
Although the women who are selected to participate in The Maxx You Project will be strangers to each other, they will share a common plight. Each woman feels that she is not reaching her potential in life because of the box or label society has assigned her. Through the mentorship of Ali and Corcoran, this program aims to provide them with the support and guidance they’ve been seeking.
“Sometimes when you get the door slammed in your face, you feel down, there’s other women in my life that kind of given me strength to keep going and kept me positive, so I believe in the power of us [women] connecting and kind of being there for one another for the good and the bad times.”