Michelle at The Pilates Pod, Hitchin, Hertfordshire

I’m a 40 year old studio owner and Pilates teacher of 17 years. I have trained in Contemporary Pilates, and Classical Pilates, but above all I just love Pilates, how it makes me feel and seeing how it helps transform people’s lives. Pilates has helped me recover from a back injury as a result of a car accident. Pilates has helped my carry and deliver two beautiful children into the world, and Pilates has made my body strong and resilient.

A Heffer

As anyone running a studio will know, it has its ups and downs. But in January 2019, I arrived at my studio on a Monday morning ahead of a busy week, happy and full of positivity, excitement and pride in our team, only to find some vile, hateful emails which had been sent over the weekend. One called me a “HEFFER”. One said “Pilates teachers are meant to be role models, what happened to you CHUNKY?” One said “If I wanted to seriously compete with my far superior competitors, then I had better start PRACTICING WHAT I PREACH”. NOT a great start to the week.

Through the months more came… “YOU’RE USELESS” one said.

Another just simply “SAUSAGE FINGERS” (that one made my kinda laugh, my troll obviously had a bad morning to come up with that one!)

They tried to bait me with comments of my “far superior competitors”. The personal slander turned to professional, all because I didn’t rise to it. They started putting up fake bad reviews online from made up accounts. They spread rumours about me, and all the way continued to drop little messages of hate into my company inbox about me, my face, my hair, my body, my skills… Anything really;

Initially I was shocked. The shock quickly turned to upset, and confusion and anger, and eventually I just felt overwhelming sadness. Who would do or say such a thing? Who could be so spiteful and vicious? What had I done to deserve that and in what world does anyone think that’s acceptable?

The worst thing is, that it’s not even the first time I have been subjected to body shaming and that my body has come under critique as a Pilates teacher.

After the birth of my second baby, I was made to feel completely useless and inadequate by another teacher because I just couldn’t get the flipping carriage to close while attempting the Elephant on the Reformer. My2 month post-natal body just couldn’t make that shape; Abs connected– what??? Powerhouse- who??? I was told to “Just do it” by one fellow trainee – like it was the easiest thing in the world.

Another teacher would constantly make me cry (in private), making consistent comments on my postnatal ability and weight in comparison to her own body!

In my head, I was still me, the Pilates teacher. I used to be able to do the Elephant (pre babies). They made me doubt myself. Were they right? Why couldn’t I do this exercise now? Should I be able to do it – because all the other teachers were doing it and with 1 leg varieties?!

Everytime I took this shape, I had a complete fail – Pull Ups, Elephant, Tendon Stretch, Roll Overs… they all made me shudder with guilt when I saw the other teachers looking my way as I wobbled and grunted my way through the tears.

“You just rise up” said one instructor who was ‘teaching’ me Going Up Side on the Wunda Chair. “Maybe when you’ve lost the baby weight?” one said. I snapped, turned around and shouted “I JUST CAN’T, I’VE JUST HAD A BABY YOU IDIOT, STOP MAKING ME FEEL LIKE A CRAP FATTY”. Ok, so maybe I didn’t say that, but that’s what I wanted to say. Instead I ran out the studio and had to take a moment outside in floods of tears!

The Pilates industry has got an image problem. There I said it!
In another incident a few years ago, I was told by a cleaner at the studio “Well it (Pilates) clearly doesn’t work, you haven’t lost any weight since you’ve been here!”

Actually yoga’s even worse! At least with Pilates, I was more accepted because I had strong muscles. As a yoga teacher in my previous life, I was surrounded with girls on training courses who were size 6/8, lean, had A cups, drank tumeric oat milk lattes and could bend into a pretzel. My FF cup, size 14/16 body and my love of double strength expressos, and a constant nearly swallowing of my own boobs when in downdog, just didn’t fit in!

Let’s be honest. The health and fitness industry has got a problem with image. It feels like there is an expectation of body perfection to be an ‘accepted’ teacher. Every personal trainer I have ever come across, has an Instagram full of their chiseled abs and not of their client’s progress unless it’s about how much weight they have lost.

What did you say?

As parents, we wouldn’t tell our children doing their weekly football class that they haven’t lost any weight so they should probably give up their dream of being Ronaldo.

If you went to your child’s school, you wouldn’t go body shaming and judge the teacher on their credentials and abilities based on their appearance or body type.

The Pilates and yoga industry often feels like an extension of the fashion industry where people are judged all the time on their looks and size. As good Pilates teachers, we adapt the exercises to give our clients the positive feeling of getting 100% success. It doesn’t matter if they have a stronger spring to support them or if they modify an exercise to make it achievable. We would never expect our clients (a 6ft 4, 18 stone guy to work the same way as a petite 5ft ballerina) so why aren’t teachers treated the same?

  • Do you need to be a machine or a Superhero to be a teacher?
  • Am I not worthy enough to be called a teacher because my clothes size label doesn’t fit what our industry or some body deluded troll believes it should be?
  • Do I not inspire others and help get them out of pain as a fitness professional, because my body is more Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss?
  • Who says what is acceptable anyway? What is normal? As a teacher, do you need to have full working use of all your limbs? Do you need the perfect arch to your foot? Do you need to wear leotards and lycra and shop in fashionable sports lux brands? Can you have tattoos, be a man in a female dominated environment…Where does it end?

Not fitting in – literally

I was in Sweaty Betty, trying to give my workout wear an overhaul. Having wrestled with ridiculous strappy tops that I had to dislocate my arm to get into and a boob shelf panel that works fine for B cups but not FF cup bad boys, the shop assistant heard me getting a bit of an angry sweat on and offered to help, only to then say “They don’t really suit you if you’re one of those bigger instructors” What the actual f**k?!
“How many items did you want to take today miss” she went on to ask……. !!!

Who remembers when Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, got into hot water for his comment on TV when trying to defend why some of his yoga pants were getting sent back due to poor quality and thinning.
“They just don’t work for some ladies bodies. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time.”

I mean, come on… don’t you know the average woman is a beautiful size 16 with 36DD boobs.

We’re in the wellbeing industry. Making people feel good and well about their being. Our clients are these types of people and we don’t judge them. They don’t judge us either, (mainly because they have their own cr*p going on and just want to get on with it), but the industry judges us as teachers, other teachers judge us, the media judges us!

Being a size 6 doesn’t mean you are skinny or unhealthy either; remember the shoe can fit the other foot. An older person isn’t unfit compared to a younger peer. Let’s stop looking at the world like it’s purely aesthetical and celebrate what amazing bodies we have, what they’ve been through and what they can do!

As people working in the Pilates industry, it’s our job to be kind, respectful, to be intuitive, sensitive and to lift people up. There are wonderful people working in this business of all shapes, sizes, genders, race, abilities and even hair cuts! As an industry we need to take a stand to say it’s not ok to body shame.

Remember, we are all human beings and we hurt if we are wounded.

Published and Written 2019 by Michelle Smith, Owner of The Pilates Pod, Mind Movement Matters and creator of Your Body Rocks campaign

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