The A Plus Interview

Laila Ali On Finding Inner Confidence And The Best Piece Of Advice She Got From Her Father

"If you keep a positive mindset, you can pretty much deal with anything."

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others.

Beginning in 1999, Laila Ali's boxing career took off like a rocket, the span of which saw her take part in 24 fights and remain undefeated. But it was in 2007, when Ali announced her retirement, that the real battle emerged: discovering herself and what else life had in store.

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Now, more than a decade later, the 40-year-old — who is the daughter of famed boxer Muhammad Ali — has created a successful lifestyle brand. She's an author, a TV host, a cooking enthusiast, and an author, in addition to being a mom and a wife. Ali recalled how it took about five years to figure out what was next for her, to find the best direction for her life.

"Reinventing myself, basically, was a hurdle and I think it's something a lot of people face in their life — but it can be done," she told A Plus. Ali was discussing a partnership with Think About Your Eyes, a national public awareness campaign to remind people about the importance of scheduling a yearly comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist, especially for kids.

Ali herself needed vision correction from an early age and received corrective eye surgery before stepping into the ring. Later in life, she needed to get checked out again after having trouble seeing and, turns out, her daughter has needed vision correction since the age of 5. If anyone knows the importance of eye health, it's Ali.

"Our eyes are always changing — that's why it's important for adults because, just because you wear glasses, to get your comprehensive eye exam yearly because our eyes do change and continually will change," Ali noted.

While speaking about her partnership with Think About Your Eyes, Ali also spoke to A Plus about how she overcomes challenges in life where she finds inner confidence, her thoughts about the state of women's sports, specifically boxing, and the best piece of advice she has been given (spoiler alert: it comes from her dad).

Courtesy Laila Ali

A PLUS: Tell me a little about your partnership with Think About Your Eyes. What drew you to it?

LAILA ALI: I know how important it is for parents to make sure they get their kids' eye exams in as well as their own eyes. I started having vision problems at a very young age, and my daughter also wears glasses and started wearing them at an early age, so I know firsthand the impact vision problems can have on our well-being. 

That's why I partnered with Think About Your Eyes, to encourage families to schedule annual comprehensive eye exams — especially in the summer because it's a great time when our schedules are a little more open to get it in and make it a regular thing.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from this partnership when it comes to eye health?

I didn't realize that you should really take your children even as young as 6 months old to get their eyes checked. I certainly didn't do it that young with my kids, but you can prevent problems later on that can happen in the future as well as other health issues related to your eyes — potential risks — you can detect them early on. That was surprising to me because I think a lot of parents do what I did. The mistake that I made, which was waiting until something came up. 

With my daughter, her teacher told me that she was squinting in class and having trouble seeing the board, and I noticed she wasn't as confident in her reading. That's when I discovered that she needed glasses and I felt bad that I should have taken her sooner. I want to keep that from happening with other families.

You’re undefeated in the ring. How do you deal with and overcome challenges in life that threaten to beat you?

There's always challenges, but I think it's how we deal with those challenges that makes the difference. I've definitely had hurdles to overcome. I would say, just off the top of my head, when I decided to stop boxing as an athlete I went through this — for lack of a better word — kind of depression. Like, wow, what am I going to do now? Because you did what you loved, the thing you trained so hard at and you mastered. Then, at a young age for pretty much most athletes, you retire. 

For me, it was finding what I was going to do that I'm passionate about that can sustain me and I can support my family. That's when I started really getting into health, wellness, and fitness because that's what I love. I love encouraging people to be the best they can be. Partnering with something like Think About Your Eyes just continues to strengthen my message of being the best that you can be, taking care of yourself, and being proactive — because that's what we have to do in every area of our life. You can't wait to do anything for you. You have to do it for yourself. 

You’re known for having a bubbly personality. Where does your inner confidence come from?

It started when I was really young. I've always been confident in myself and that's a question that I get a lot, but you have to just level the playing field in your mind. That's what it comes down to because a lot of the time we put other people on a pedestal or we see they're doing so good and wonder how we're going to do the same. You compare yourself to other people, but everybody is at a different place in their life and the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Everyone has their challenges, everyone has their faults, and when you really need to level the playing field in your mind and say, "Look, this is my life. I have to do X, Y, and Z to get from point A to point B. I'm not going to compare myself to anyone else." Accept that you're going to make mistakes along the way but there's always a way to overcome.

If you keep a positive mindset, you can pretty much deal with anything. When there are roadblocks in my way I recognize they're there, I deal with it, and I figure out a way to get around it. I know it's not always going to be that way. Some people, when they don't have that mindset, they get stuck. They say, "Oh, god. Life is so hard. Why me? Why me? Why me?" What they don't realize is it happens to everybody, it's just a matter of how you deal with it. That attitude is what carried me through no matter what it is I'm doing. It just comes down with mindset.

Courtesy Laila Ali

I saw your post about women in sports — specifically with two female boxers — getting more respect these days. How have you seen that improve and what do you hope for the future?

That's what the post was about, that it has improved. I was showing different women's fights on TV because they were actually being televised. When I was boxing, obviously being Muhammad Ali's daughter and having that last name, I had more opportunities to have exposure. That didn't help me win in the ring, it didn't help me win my titles, but it gave me more exposure. It's nice to see other women who don't necessarily have a famous last name get exposure on some of the networks that I remember when I was boxing they told me they weren't going to put my fight on because they don't show women's boxing. Like, they just straight up said it. That was even with me, the most famous fighter of all time's daughter. So I thought, "If I can't be on TV, will we ever get to be on TV?" If anybody, you'd think they would have let me do it, but they said no. 

It's great to see some of the women's movements that are happening open up the doors indirectly in a lot of ways because they know they're doing to take the heat and they can't say a statement like that anymore. I'm happy to see the strides we've made and it's going to continue to grow, especially with women's boxing in the Olympics now because it wasn't when I was boxing. We have a long way to go, but we've made some improvements. I just like to highlight the positive side.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given? Who was it from?

I would say my father would be the main one because just growing up in a household with him and seeing how he treated people on a daily basis has had a big impact on my life. Everywhere we went there were people he'd bring to tears just by being in his presence, and he always treated everyone with kindness and compassion. Everybody was on the same level regardless of their socioeconomic level, the power that they had, or the money that they had — he didn't really care. He taught me to never step on others to get ahead and that can be taken in so many different ways. You'd think, well, of course, you don't step on others — but people do it all the time. Sometimes there's a fine line in what you do to get ahead. Doing everything with integrity is really important, no matter who I'm dealing with or what the situation is. I see people go against that on a daily basis, but for me to be able to sleep at night I have to know I did things the right way. That's something I learned from my father.

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