I’m a Pilates Instructor. I have a body.

But I do not have what would be considered a “Pilates Body”. I don’t really have to explain what a “Pilates Body” looks like, just type the words “Pilates Body” into Google images and see what the internet spits back at you.

I do not look like ANY of those images. Actually, sorry I take that back – there’s a few ‘before and after’ shots on the page, and my body probably does resemble some of those before shots.

In case we haven’t met before, here’s a picture of my Pilates Body (minus my head, which is what happens when a three year old gets hold of the camera!) I know it’s not really important that you know what I look like, but maybe it helps, so here you go:

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Check that lack of six pack, that lack of thigh gap, the squooshy boobs in an ill-fitting sports bra (it must have been laundry day!). I’d also really like to thank Miss Three for the shocking angle of this image. You’d never see a Pilates marketing photo from this angle!

In fact, when it comes to Pilates Body internet imagery you don’t even need to type the word “body”, just type “Pilates” into an image search and this is the body you’ll find. Young, blonde, female, long and lean. You’d be forgiven for thinking the only people who can or do practice Pilates are Australia’s Next Top Model contestants.

Why, when we type Pilates, don’t we see more women with bodies like mine? Or images of the 14 year old girl in her school sports uniform doing Pilates to address her scoliosis, or the 50 year old truck driver doing Pilates to recover from his back injury, or the 70 year old woman doing Pilates to keep strong after her osteoporosis diagnosis? And I know we see lots of pregnant bellies in crop tops and “Mummy and Me” Pilates – but those Mums are, by and large, quite “yummy” – there’s rarely any new Mums pictured in beige maternity bras with baby spew down their shirt and dark circles under their eyes due to lack of sleep. It’s all matching crop tops and leggings with bouncy pony tails and no hint of a “mum-tum” at all.

Pilates has an image problem. And the problem is the general public is only being presented with one image of Pilates.

Part of this is due to the fact that Pilates instructors are, overwhelmingly “Pilates Bodies” types – but that is slowly changing – here’s just a selection of a few instructors doing great things to promote body positive Pilates over on Instagram.So hopefully the stereotype of Pilates just being for the beautiful bodies is slowly changing.

But we still have a long way to go – and a lot of that rests on us as instructors to lead the charge. Just as @sixthstreetpilates, @grace.movement.pilates, @pilates.fbg and @sheofdc are doing.

At a women’s health conference I attended recently I was seated next to a lovely Pilates studio owner who did indeed have a ‘Pilates Body’, she was stunning – the workshop we were in was about marketing and naturally we got chatting about marketing our respective studios through social media, branding and imagery. This lovely lady had two studios, and while she said one just ticked along nicely through word of mouth, the second, inner city studio, was all about “the body beautiful”. That was the marketing strategy that drove attendance at that studio.

“It’s all about the body beautiful”, she said, “That’s what the clients want.”

I had to politely disagree. The “body beautiful” is what people who value the body beautiful want. But there are also people who value the “body functional”, the “body pain free”, the “body recovering from pregnancy”, to “body challenged to see what it can perform”, the “body that feels so much more relaxed after this one hour per week to myself”, the “body that just wants to stretch and move”, the “body who likes to hang out with friends in a space that’s not a pub”, or the “body who appreciates mindful movement”.

There are a hundred reasons why someone might start, and continue, a Pilates practice, the least important of which is rock hard abs.

Joseph Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method, wrote a book about his work. He named it “Return to Life Through Contrology*”, not “Return to Booty Through Contrology”. (*Contrology was what Joseph originally called his method, I guess he just wasn’t Kanye enough to personally name it after himself, his protégé’s named the method Pilates after his death.)

Pilates is about moving your body, and restoring it to functional movement patterns so that it can carry you through life. In the words of my lovely friend Taryn Brumfitt, of the Body Image Movement, “My body is not an ornament, it is the vehicle to my dreams”.

So if you have dreams, and you want your body to be strong, flexible and functional, in order to help you achieve them, maybe give Pilates a go. Even if you don’t have (or don’t want) a Pilates Body – you’ll fit in at my studio just fine!

Until next time – Sarah xx

ps. If you are keen to give pilates a go, and you’re close to me in western Adelaide – make sure you check out my “Buy five, get 10” discount – 10 classes for the price of five ($90). To book or check the schedule, click here.

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