Things are stirring in the world of Pilates that are not comfortable to talk about but it is very necessary. And it seems like 2020 is the perfect year for it to start to bubble to the surface because….well, 2020. Pilates, as a movement, as an industry, seemingly has so much to offer the world. A system of exercises that is repeatable and can be done with or without special equipment. It is low impact and even guides your movements so its beneficial to those recovering from injury. It has fancy looking equipment that helps support your movements so if you have never exercised before you feel safe. What many students and practitioners of Pilates don’t see or hear is the rampant bullying, un-scientific magical thinking, racism, ableism, ageism, body shaming and general discrimination that happens ‘behind the curtain’. Many of these things are built into the fabric of the industry.
For a method of exercise that promotes itself as well thought out and researched there are a surprising number of unscientific stuff touted as Pilates. It is promoted worldwide to help with improving posture (not a thing). Its promoted to help with back pain (it’s not unique at doing that). Its advertised as helping build core strength (any exercise regime will do that) AND lose weight (just nope). It allegedly also helps with crafting toned, long, lean muscles (like what even is that about?). Wrap it all up in a little bit of navel gazing, ‘scooping’ your belly and some ‘magic’ and basically that’s how just about every Pilates studio in the world promotes the work. The fact that almost every one of the above points are wrong, misguided or not telling the whole story is passed over. Many practitioners of Pilates are blissfully unaware of these inaccuracies and simply enjoy the Pilates method because it makes you feel good. 'My teacher must really be a total Pilates guru.' This line of thought leads to lack of critical thinking unquestioning presented 'facts'. Pilates is magic. This is just crap.
What does Pilates look like?
The image of happy and ‘healthy’ people on Reformers is something the Pilates world is all too happy to share. That is as long as it’s a really manicured image. In fact head to Google right now and type in Pilates and then hit the ‘Images’ tab. What do you notice? Do you get the same thing as me? My screen is filled with lean white people, mostly women. Where are the people of colour? Where are the people of different shapes? Where are the men or transgendered folk? Isn’t that just somewhat a little concerning? Anyone? Bueller? You can’t be what you can’t see. It looks like Pilates is something seemingly wealthy, lean, white women do in white walled well-lit rooms. Is that a fair reflection of the industry that has been built up around the Pilates Method? I’m sure individual studios will hold themselves up as an example of being non-discriminatory but the wall of images a Pilates-curious person sees when Google-ing sends the message, implicit or otherwise, that if you don’t look like this then you’re not welcome here. If that doesn’t deter someone from trying Pilates and they actually head to a Pilates studio to give it a go they will often be confronted by a couple of things first. The price. It’s freakin’ expensive. So if you can’t actually afford a class you’re immediately excluded. You’ll often have to arrange a private lesson first to have an ‘Assessment’ (like it’s some kind of exam you need to pass to be allowed to enter). This assessment will be often be some sort of static postural assessment (useless for determining how people move), maybe some basic movement tests (can you touch your toes) and then if you’re lucky some actual Pilates movements. Then you will be basically told what is ‘wrong’ with your body and how Pilates is going to ‘fix’ you. Every session from then on is you basically being told you’re doing things wrong, or be careful, or watch out, or don’t do it like that, until you’re ‘fixed’. Who would sign up for that shit?
A cycle of abuse
And that’s just treatment of people who pay to do Pilates, in far too many studios. However it doesn't stop there. The people who actually teach seem to reserve the real venom for each other! Deification of teachers, gurus who are ‘gate-keepers’ of the one true way, ‘un-scientific’ magical thinking, body-shaming, gossiping and bullying. These are concepts and treatment that I have heard and witnessed just this last week – and quite frankly, it’s been a relatively quiet week!
Scratch the surface and you will see so much discrimination in the Pilates industry. People beholden to an idea of true or real Pilates (either Classical or Contemporary as both claim this). They overlook the fact that there is literally no such thing. Joseph Pilates’ movements and machines were being altered and tinkered with pretty much as soon as he died. If you want true authentic Pilates you need to build a time machine and head back to New York City sometime in the 1950-60s and check out a curious little German guy. In fact chances are he will probably reject you before you cross the threshold to his gym. You are not beholden to the rules of a man teaching gymnastic drills from last century.
So what is the point in bringing this to light. Why have I disturbed the serene calmness of your Pilates practise? Because enough is enough. The bullying, the discrimination, the body shaming, the magical beliefs, the Pilates police are done. It’s over. They hold no power here and will be called out every time they pop up. It's time. The revolution and emancipation of Pilates has begun. Old dogma is being tipped over and disposed of. Pilates is for everybody and EVERY BODY. Our studio is welcoming to all. I make no apologies for that. I simply don’t need to. If you have a problem with that, firstly WTF?! And then secondly please know I don’t actually care. If you have an interest in this world check out some important conversations being had:
These type of discussions are happening now, more and more. It is time. In fact it's well past time. The old dogma is being overturned.
The revolution WILL be televised.