I’ve been teaching fitness, Pilates and all types of movement for over 30 years. When I’m out and about and someone asks me what I do for work I always hesitate to answer truthfully with “I teach fitness.” I usually say that I’m a “consultant” (which is true!) and inevitably they ask what kind of consultant I am. I usually say something to change the subject and try to move on.
I bet you’re wondering why I do this. I hate answering with fitness instructor, personal trainer, or worse yet with “I’m a Pilates instructor” because the first thing the individual does is look me up and down and mentally or rather JUDGEmentally decide if I’m “fit looking enough” to be any kind of fitness instructor. I find it annoying.
I suppose I do look fit. Well, I also suppose that is subjective and depends on what one considers fit to look like. But I’m happy with my body. I’m actually happy that I’m alive never mind what my body fat percentage is or what size Lululemon I’m wearing (I’m actually a LUCY girl). I’ve made it on this planet longer than many with very few problems besides a tight low back. But I still don’t like the judgement that instantly comes with saying that I teach fitness and Pilates.
Body image is kind of a hot topic for me as my final project for my degree in Nutrition & Wellness Counseling was on Disordered Eating (Eating Disorders). And being a veteran of the fitness industry I have witnessed so much disordered eating, compulsive exercise obsessions and distorted body image (most often with very fit and beautiful instructors!!!) that it just plain makes me sad and angry at the same time. How did we get to be this way???
With all this being said, I would like to share with you a Facebook post that I wrote a year ago. I wrote this post in response to what seemed like, at the time, a plethora of body image quotes, stories, posts, comments, etc. I hope this writing will be helpful to many of you struggling with perhaps these topics or your job as a “consultant” and to know that you are perfect the way you are. And to be strong, carry the Pilates torch and carry it well. And carry it well for ALL bodies including your own.
Facebook ~ April 6, 2015
I am writing this because there have been, as of late, a quite a few posts on Facebook regarding “body image.” This includes body image for our clients and for us, as Pilates (and/or fitness) professionals. This is a bit of a hot topic for me (as for many others) as to what defines the “perfect’ body and/or the perfect “Pilates body.” As a thirty plus year veteran of the fitness industry and fifteen years teaching Pilates and owning studios, this subject matter is near and dear to my heart. My degree is in Nutrition and Wellness Counseling and my final project was on Disordered Eating (Eating Disorders).
Briefly, I am NOT a dancer. I am NOT a size zero. I am NOT bone thin. I AM very happy in my own size 6/8 skin – which is way thinner than the “average” American woman (but considered an EXTRA LARGE in many European countries or Pilates conferences!!!). I AM fortunate to have very few health problems. I AM strong as a team of Clydesdales – both in body and mind. My fitness journey began with a severe back injury at age twenty. I fixed it with exercise and the rest is history. Because of circumstances around me and being only 5’3”, I had, at one time, many insecurities regarding being “short and fat” even though looking back I was not. Being someone in the limelight for the past twenty years or so as a fitness and now Pilates presenter, it took many years to overcome those body image insecurities.
The media and society at large (no pun intended) puts an ENORMOUS amount of pressure on women (some on men but it is not the same!!!) to be perfect (whatever the F#@% that is) to the point where children are worried about getting fat and worried about their appearance instead of their own unique individuality – and what other things they have to offer besides their physique and appearance. This is idiotic in my opinion, but the pressure is there nevertheless.
We, as Pilates professionals, unfortunately, are sometimes held to whatever an individual’s perception may be of what a Pilates instructor “should” look like. And for this reason I HATE the fact that Pilates is always associated with the dance community. (Don’t shoot me yet!) Dancers are always perceived as bone thin, exceptionally flexible and perform near Cirque du Soleil acts effortlessly (damn all of you!!!). Then there are the rest of us – struggling to do tree with a straight leg, hold open leg rocker and not fall over, and roll like a ball instead of flop like a fish. And most of our participants fall into this fish flopping category. Joe wasn’t a dancer either. My beef is that Pilates needs a totally different image than what it seems to be. Then perhaps our peoples wouldn’t make those unsavory remarks about bellies, and babies, and body fat and body weight. Pilates instructors come in all shapes and sizes just like all the people out there signing up to do Pilates. And thank GODDESS for that!!!
When I owned a large Pilates and personal training studio in NH, I had no mirrors in the group mat room. It was forbidden to EVER speak negatively about yourself, your body or your appearance. EVER. I removed an instructor that was a size 2 because she was always remarking about her BIG THIGHS. I told her she needed to shut up and be thankful to be alive. And how did she think her remarks made other participants feel that were a perfectly normal size 10 or 12 and were coming to Pilates and trying to improve their health? And then having to listen to her spout off blatantly her own body images issues? SHUT UP YOU! The focus at my studio was ALWAYS on improving the quality of life and feeling better and being happy. It was never on weight loss, body image, or perfection (unless it was moving towards perfection of the exercise and method).
I had no (airbrushed) posters of perfect bodies doing the exercises insanely perfectly. I had signs and framed artwork about self-empowerment, happiness, dance like no one is looking and YOU ARE ENOUGH – exactly who you are (Louise Hay is my mentor). I lived these concepts. I preached these concepts. I am these concepts. I worked to be all these things so I could set the example. Hopefully I touched a few lives – many lives, perhaps. I plan to continue. It took years of self-reflection and hard work to be able to transform my inner psychi. I am not done. And I am no polly-anna.
I do believe that teaching involves teaching on many levels. Creating a space is part of a person’s “teaching” as well as the exercises. If you teach (and preach) flexibility in the mind, the body and the heart, you will bring about people that are like that. If you teach self-acceptance, humility, diversity, and empowerment to all, you will bring that about. If you teach rigidity, perfection at all costs, superiority, competition, etc., you will reap that in your studio and clients. Your clients and your space can often be a reflection of you and your inner soul. Sorry to be so “woo woo” about this, but I do believe it to be true. OK, so I know it is true.
I wish I had a “Magic Pill of Self-Acceptance” to give people that needed one – both instructors and clients. I wish I had a “Magic Invisible Roll of Duct Tape” to cover the mouths of all those saying things or asking questions that likely mean no harm to us but secretively throw destructive battery acid on our self esteem that society is also hell bent on destroying with the farce of perfectionism. I am unsure how to make those of you feel better about these remarks that you have endured and the questions that you have been asked.
However, I do know this and if you need to repeat it to yourself daily feel free as our thoughts become our words, our words become who we are and dictate our actions.
I am perfect exactly the way I am.
I am healthy. I am strong. I do amazing things.
I am enough, today and every day, exactly the way I am.
Carry on my friends and colleagues. Teaching is the giving of yourself. And sometimes it can be a real pain in the ass. But do it because you love it. And I know you do. XOXOXOXOX
Sabrina Ellen Svard
TopNotch Pilates & Fitness | Santa Fe & Los Alamos | New Mexico
- “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Except pizza. Fuck skinny. Eat pizza.”
Pattie Breen says
Well-said Sabrina. You must be an amazing teacher trainer. There are so many fitness teachers ( I also teach pilates and water fitness) with priorities all screwed up. That harder, faster is better. The joy of movement is a gift we are given, available to all, no matter what size, shape or condition. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a student’s face light up when they are successful in performing a move, even a small part of a move. And it’s up to us to encourage even the baby steps. In the end, there is nothing more beautiful than a confident, self-assured woman. Thanks for the great thoughts. I’m going to quote you in my classes.
Suzy C says
love this, thank you. just when I needed a boost to my own doubt about teaching and why I do it. thank you again.
Thanks so mich fo the article. I struggle being overweight by a noticeable amount and 62. And owner of a movement pilates studio, and really hate to call myself a Pilates in structor for the reasons you mention, not for lack of experience. Also, my love of movement stems not from the fitness industry but from tge mind body inquiry.i
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Thank you for this….During the Pilates Instructor training course that I took a few years back I was made to feel deficient, and not because of my body weight or appearance …but because I walk with a limp due to a congenital hip issue that meant there were some exercises I literally could not perform. I didn’t fit in with the skinny 20 year olds who could do a full teaser on the first day of class. I have to work ten times as hard for those kind of achievements which gives me a giant sense of achievement and as most of my clients have some form of injury or body image I am able to approach my teaching from an angle of familiarity and understanding for them. I am ‘one of them’…yet I have succeeded and have the knowledge to push them in a positive direction and make them feel better about themselves. There are few things more re-assuring than the client who tells me at the end of a session how fabulous they feel…and I know that we accomplished that positivity together.