Representation matters.

I was all set on writing a blog post on how Pilates is really good for men to do and they should really try it and it would be totally ace to have more men in the studio.  And although that is all true, I actually want to change tact and maybe have an uncomfortable chat. 

*Disclaimer: I apologise for any heteronormativity that may be present in this article as it is meant to portray the clichés. The binary references to male & female, men and women refer to one’s biological sex rather than their gender identity.  I am a firm believer in all people having equal access to Pilates.

One thing is maybe overlooked when Pilates studios start asking how to get more men into classes. The question isn’t “HOW to get more men in classes” it should be “WHY aren’t there more men in Pilates classes?” Teachers and students?

In all my years teaching and attending classes, I, a male teacher and Pilates practitioner, am always in the minority. By a massive margin. As a general rule, I would guess that somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent of all Pilates people would identify as male. I am basing this simply from my personal experience and have no data to back that up but next time you are in a class have a look around – I pretty much guarantee you the number of men in the studio will be quite low. So why is that? 

What about Pilates is so unattractive to men? Why as an industry after nearly 90 years of there being studios dedicated to Joseph Pilates work are there now fewer men in studios than in Joseph’s day?

The early days…

In the early days of developing his method, it was very much a male thing to do, not that I believe Joseph wanted to train only men. It’s just that was the population he was dealing with at the time, as a detainee in an internment camp on the Isle of Man during World War I. Once he got to New York and opened his studio many dancers began working with him and I believe the gender divide was more or less even. You can tell by the number of male and female Elders that became the next generation of teachers that followed Joseph. Apart from his partner, Clara, there are about 10 people who Pilates practitioners consider to be Elders – six are female, four are male.  So not exactly 50/50 but fairly close. What happened? Why is there such a disparity today?

I don’t have many answers as perhaps I come at it from a biased view, but I think the Pilates industry as a whole is very bad at marketing as a general rule, and extremely bad at attracting men. I say bad at marketing because the general public still, after nearly 90 years of existence, have absolutely no idea about the Pilates Method. 

But do they even know?

How is it that something we all consider to be beneficial and good could be around for basically three generations and still people confuse it with Yoga? I wonder – does that ever happen to yoga teachers? Do people confuse yoga with Pilates? How has Pilates survived this long without people actually seeing a Reformer and saying – ‘Hey that’s a Reformer – people use that to practice the Pilates Method.’  They are more likely to see one and say ‘What on earth is that?’

There have been attempts to try and market directly to men – from ‘Male only’ classes to click-bait style ‘Top 9 reasons Pilates is good for guys’ lists or displays of powerful professional athletes demonstrating their Pilates sessions. They simply do not work. If I see another ‘Hey guys doing Pilates is good for your sex life‘ post I think I will scream. These sort of things may be mildly amusing or of passing interest to a Pilates Teacher but they do not help and in fact, may actually be stopping lots of potential male students from attending classes in their local Pilates studio.

Men don’t need to be catered to as some sort of special population group with their own Pilates lessons and Pilates repertoire. There is no such thing as male only, or for that matter, female only Pilates exercises. It is all things to EVERYone. The attempts to market Pilates classes to men are not working. In the time I have been teaching there has been no real shift in the numbers of men in Pilates studios. If we’re truly looking to get more men in the studio we, as the Pilates industry, have to take a look at the image we are actually projecting to the public.

Representation matters…

If you do a Google search of Pilates studios in your local area, you will get a large number of studios with names that include ‘Inspire’, ‘Wellness’, ‘Soul’ and ‘Peace’, all equipped with logos that have flowing lines and are coloured in pinks, purples and pale greens, promotional photos of Lululemon-clad women in static positions, curated Instagram and YouTube feeds of female teachers demonstrating amazing coordination and choreography. 

If there happens to be a single guy in these promotional materials he will usually be an ex-dancer with incredible ranges of motion and bulging muscles. These things all have their place and I 100% support them as everyone in those images has usually worked their butts off… just don’t be surprised if as a studio you don’t have herds of male students banging on your door. There is no representation of just ordinary guys. Guess what – there are waaay more ordinary guys than there are muscle-bound fitness models.

Catch-22

It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation but if you want to attract a certain student to your classes you need to show that they are valued and represented. The same could be said for any minority community.  It’s all well and good saying that everyone is welcome to a Pilates class but unless people can see someone like them doing a class don’t be surprised if you struggle to attract them. Representation matters.

So you want more men in your Pilates studio but don’t know how to get them? How about checking what image your studio is projecting and make sure ordinary guys see other ordinary guys doing it.

Let’s just move together.

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