“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” —John Steinbeck
“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” —Maya Angelou
“Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up. […] This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name—the impostor syndrome. Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.” —Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, March 2013
“What’s talent but the ability to get away with something?” —Tennessee Williams
It might sound like I’m talking about two separate things, but hang on. I’ll explain in a bit.
For those who aren’t familiar, imposter syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept that describes individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
Now read that again.
I know I’m affected by this so-called syndrome big time. I walk into the studio. I have an eight-hour shift. I’m about to teach my face off, and suddenly, just as I greet my first student, I think, What the heck am I going to teach you, and who the the heck am I to teach it to you in the first place?
I talk a big game about Pilates teachers being actual “teachers” (not “instructors”), and about Pilates practitioners being “students” of a method (not “clients”). Okay, cool. I also talk a huge game about Pilates being a practice that is ongoing. Great. Done deal.
Then I get on my soapbox and scream to the heavens about body image. And that we are all just humans who need to be kinder to one another. We are all interested in this specific stylized movement, after all. Anyone and everyone is welcome to join with zero judgment. Heck, yeah! I’m literally changing the world here…
Somewhere around now marks a year of traveling and teaching workshops around the world. The one thing I noticed that seems to globally unite all Pilates teachers and students is a deep-rooted insecurity. Almost everyone feels they aren’t something enough. At first that “something” felt like a first-world human condition of sorts. For the most part, Pilates is a luxury item so any angst associated with it needs to be held in check. But within this myopic world, I realized that practitioners are OBSESSED with what their practice looks like. Overall, they aren’t as obsessed with ankle articulation, uniformity of muscles or a solid pull-up. They’re all consumed with what the movements look like, or what they think others think they look like.
So I come to—insert city—and go: “No, sister, you’ve got it twisted. Literally no one cares what your Teaser looks like. Literally not one person. You know why? Because Pilates isn’t a performance. There’s no recital at the end of the semester to which to invite your loved ones.” Another common thread worldwide: All these folks obsessed with “pretty” feel like frauds. Imposters.
And I’m one of them.
Would we have Pilates as we know it today without the elders who were all dancers teaching us everything we know? Absolutely not. But what if Pilates was taken under the wing of professional rock climbers or injured welders? It would look totally different. The need for things to look aesthetically pleasing—whatever that means anyway—might not be at the forefront. When I meet with ex-professional dancers who are now Pilates teachers, often times they speak of how Pilates is a language that “just” made sense to them. Yeah, duh, because it was rephrased along the way by the “speakers” of the same “language.”
Mr. Pilates wasn’t a dancer. And to me, from the archives, it doesn’t seem like he was overly concerned with what students looked like while practicing. So why am I trying so hard to “stick the landing” on my Snake/Twist?
This idea of not performing prettily enough—with “grace,” as so many refer to it—is thwarting our progress.
What would our practice look like if we took the pretty out of it? What would our practice feel like if we weren’t so concerned?
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.