The cover of this issue’s Pilates Style is all about “Pilates for every body” with a powerful photo and a powerful editor’s note. With power comes responsibility. With exposure comes criticism and praise. Body shaming is no longer acceptable and this is why:
One year since my crop-top challenge, so much has changed yet so much has remained the same.
Last year at this time, I was wrapping up a 30 day challenge on social media: 30 images accompanied by text; 30 images of my human body in a crop top; 30 exercises; 30 confessionals getting deep down and personal. What does it feel like to not fit in, to be a rebel. Feeling scared to rock the Pilates boat too much but compelled to draw attention to some issues as a woman, a teacher, with a body which is by default political.
The project felt inevitable. It was time to talk about the uncomfortable truth. The things we may be whispering behind each other’s backs or saying publicly from behind a screen.
Can an overweight Pilates teacher be of value?
That is literally a question I ask myself every day, but even more so I get asked it every day. When someone posts something “mean” under an image or video of my teaching it’s not the rudeness I’m responding to. I respond to the implication that people who don’t have the “look” have no value as movement educators. I am responding to the implication that being heavy means a lack of movement. I don’t mind (much) being called names or being disliked based on my appearance, but I do mind being dismissed altogether because of the assumption that I don’t work just as hard on my body as my chiseled counterparts.
Here are some questions I get asked repeatedly:
- Why don’t you lose weight?
- Why would I want to learn how to get toned from someone so untoned?
- Why are you overweight?
- Why are you taking time to respond to my comment when you could be on the treadmill losing weight right now?
People calling me out on my appearance so often starts to feel a bit much over time. Would it be acceptable to write to a gay or Jewish or arthritic instructor that they happen to be a disgusting turnoff, so much so, that the commenter is physically repulsed by their sheer presence? In what universe would that be “just voicing an opinion”?
Genetics, metabolism, hormones and a love of pizza play a role in my life. FOR SURE. I’m not a victim of these things. But no one knows everyone else’s entire story. That is impossible. Just like a very thin person can be labeled “anorexic” when that couldn’t be farther from the truth, an overweight person isn’t just a lazy indulger.
I don’t feel compelled to explain this to every commenter—it is common sense. I do feel compelled to stand up for and advocate kindness and education. For every snide remark in our industry I assume 100 people are turned off from entering a Pilates studio. For every body-shaming teacher there are 100 potential students missing out on trying Pilates for the first time. That is imaginary but powerful math. As an industry, we all lose when we put each other down publicly. You think your students don’t see what you put out there? They do—and more than you think. It looks bad you guys! We look petty and preoccupied with anything and everything OTHER than our passion for the method.
Pilates is an industry and a community. The options are: be supportive or be neutral or just be so busy doing your thing that you just don’t have time to be a bully. Truth without tact is cruelty…most of the time.
Do the students of the online judges and arbiters of “health and fitness” get the same treatment as I do online? A chubby student is shamed in their session? Deemed a poor mover? Deemed not working hard enough for the ideal Pilates body? I’d like to know how these classes go because I’m confused. Do students need to go on a diet before visiting your studio? What does “out of shape” mean? We all have a shape.
Also, without getting in too deep into the ebbs and flows of beauty standards over the centuries because that’s boring…can we all pull out our dog-eared copies of Return to Life and try to find the chapter about “flat abs”? Did I miss it? Can we point out the words “thin” and “dancer body,” “long and lean”? Oh…wait…can’t find them? Yup. They don’t exist. Not in this method at least. I feel like I read a lot about spine health, internal showers, dry brushing…
The value of a teacher is in their intentions. The value of a student is in their practice.
Anula Maiberg is a graduate of the Kathy Grant Heritage Training Masters Program led by Cara Reeser. Anula is passionate about upholding the traditions and principles of Pilates while being able to update and personalizing them for the needs of her students. She also feels strongly about volunteering her time to the LGBTQ community, and believes Pilates is a wonderful movement modality and a tool for healing in a supportive environment.