Pilates Loves Your Body

My daughter was 6-years-old when she looked in the mirror and said, “I hate my body.”  She was always saying surprising things for her age but this? Ugh. Then she said she noticed she has a belly and none of her friends have one.  When I came back from the shock of hearing those words from her perfectly gorgeous lips, the only thing I could come up with was, “Welcome to being a woman.  By the time you are in your twenties, you’ll have a thousand things to dislike about yourself and none of them will be true.”  

I have so many friends with the most amazing curls that spend a small fortune to diminish their natural beauty for pin-straight, a.k.a. someone else’s hair. As a tween, I spent lot of time hating the shape of my fingernails.  I would sit and pinch and curve my fingertips trying to get that Lee Press On look!  


Apparently, this look was worldwide:


My nails are flat.  The pinching had small results that excited me, but the greatest result is that I have the memory to refer back to.  Now I’m 48 and a single mother.  I have a little baby pooch in my belly from my two kids. I’m short, with a crooked nose.  I yell really loudly at soccer games and sometime use the f-word with my kids.  My favorite thing in the world is now going to bed at 9pm.  Seriously, it is my absolute favorite thing.   I have a firm, perky ass but still, on any given day, I can easily construct my entire situation as lame.

Lately, in the Pilates community there’s been some buzz about body shaming.  As someone embedded in the Pilates world since the 90’s I can honestly say, I have never felt that body size was a factor in this industry.  I am so sad that it has become a conversation.  As a matter of fact, a curvy, heavier teacher recently said to me, “I embraced Pilates as my fitness choice because anyone of any size, or age, or physical condition is welcome.”  One of my first clients was about 75 pounds overweight.  You know what she taught me?  That sometimes bigger clients get more nervous standing on the reformer or going up and down on the electric chair—that’s it.  The rest of the session was a mix of ups and downs, successes and humblings, just like any other Pilates session.

Pilates does not discriminate.  It welcomes ALL bodies.  All bodies are “real” bodies.  And that includes thin bodies, too.  This training has never been about—and shouldn’t be about—body issues in an external way.  Over the tens of thousands of people that have come to BodyTonic in Brooklyn, tall, short, young, old, long arms, short legs, big rumps, teeny shoulders, athletic, hypotonic, brain damaged, uncoordinated, ballerina-like and/or previously shamed out of another modality, we immediately see that Pilates is friendly and highly adaptable.  It reconfigures around the person.  It’s a cause for both humility and celebration for everyone. And I have never come across anyone body shaming someone for being heavy.  I don’t even have mirrors in my studio because to me and many other Pilates teachers like me, we don’t spend time worrying about the outside.  We do the work for efficiency, for empowerment, for an awakening physically, mentally and spiritually.  People’s bodies just happen to transform as a result.

So, can we please end the shaming in all directions by appreciating ALL bodies ALL the time?! Too much time is being spent judging and finger pointing and and not enough time enjoying each other’s uniqueness.  If you have come across body shaming in a Pilates studio, then that studio is not doing Pilates.  They are doing something else that’s about a crazy ideal and if you have ever read “Return to Life,” Joseph Pilates does not ruminate on cosmetics but on functionality—not flat abs, or caloric intake, but instead on breath, balanced muscle tone and strength, grace, digestion and a healthy immune system.  

There have been many times I wished I was bigger, more than wishing I was skinnier, but all of that is inner noise.  I am not going to blame the public for that or make a spectacle of it for attention. Maybe it’s one of the benefits to being 48—as I can no longer drink wine without sweating in the middle of the night and need those silly readers to see a menu—at least I have the wisdom to know that it is all in my head.  Only I control my thoughts about myself.  People are not thinking about me and my self-perceived imperfections. 
I feel bad for any person feeling the burden of their own dislike.  We ALL know it.  No one escapes it.  Everyone in the world is having a hard time being understood for who they truly are.  No one owns that exclusively. 

Pilates is a practice of building up not cutting down.  It is an invitation for clients to get to know their own unique body with every bit of grace and power inside of it and that is, as Joe says, “your birthright!”  A good teacher will hold the space for a client to feel that and not pull them into a conversation about body types—ever.  I have some clients now for 20 years, and they keep coming because there is no idealized state in Pilates. Where they are, at present, in their bodies leads the way for the workout whether they are 30 or 40, 50, 60 or beyond.   If anything we can help people out of the trappings of negative body image by just focusing on the internal work of Pilates.  

I think we have to shift the conversation from “big is beautiful” or “small is beautiful” or “old is beautiful” to “everything is beautiful.”  Because the beauty is not about what your body looks like; it’s about your connection to your body and the ways you use it, take care of it and celebrate it.