Have you heard the phrases "a more toned look" or "long and lean muscles" in Pilates marketing? They're talking about the "Pilates body," a mythical aesthetic favored by the post-promoting algorithms on social media. You might think that doing Pilates will make you look like that, or that maybe you can't do Pilates unless you look a certain way. I'm here to bust those myths and get real about the harmful effects of fitness marketing and share what a Pilates body really looks like. Tune in to learn more!
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting BuyMeACoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:46] Hello. Hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today on Pilates Students Manual, we will be discussing the Pilates body. Namely, what is a Pilates body? How do you get a Pilates body? [00:01:00] Is it important to have a Pilates body if you do Pilates? And other questions related to this amorphous idea of the Pilates body.
[00:01:11] There are a lot of marketing words in the fitness landscape, and there are a lot of buzzwords in fitness and Pilates that are definitely geared to sort of evoke some image in our minds of, you know, whatever that is, in this case, Pilate's body, and then trying to sell us.
[00:01:40] So in Pilates in particular, when you hear Pilates body, I think the image that they're trying to evoke is this long lean person who's really toned, has super low body fat. They have this maybe dancer aesthetic, you know, of long [00:02:00] legs and arms and torso and you know, very small, very waif-like. Young, definitely. You know, it's all of those kind of ideas and like anything, when you look at something really closely, what seemed to be like really clear becomes a little shifty. Um, or it sort of shifts in, you know it when you try to pin it down, but when you hear Pilates body, that's kind of what it's going.
[00:02:30] So not all marketing in Pilates or fitnesses like this, but this is definitely marketing that is aimed at, um, making you feel like that's what you want or that's a good thing to be, or that your body is not a Pilates body. You have to get a Pilates body and if you give this whatever money, then that'll happen for you.
[00:02:51] Right? And it kind of creates two separate thoughts that, you [00:03:00] are going to look like this. You're going to have a Pilates body if you do Pilates, but also that you can't do Pilates unless you already look like this, which is kind of that exclusivity. And you know, "you can't sit with us" mentality. But of course, I'm not going to be shamed by any sort of marketing phrases, and I'm definitely not gonna let you feel ashamed about your body or what your body can do or how you do the exercise.
[00:03:29] So here's the long and short of it. If you do Pilates, you have a Pilates body, like that's it. If this episode was 10 seconds long, that's what it would be. It's just like a bikini body or getting summer ready or any of those kind of body shaming tactics that you see out in the wild. You have a bikini body if you're wearing a bikini, you have- your body is summer ready if it's summer and your body is there. You [00:04:00] don't need to change anything about yourself. I always wanna say that because marketing messages are everywhere, and it's like whenever you feel vulnerable or whenever you feel less than, it's really easy to convince you that this is the solution to the problem that was just created. You know?
[00:04:17] So where did this idea of a Pilates body come from? Like, where did we get this aesthetic from or this desire to attain this aesthetic? And we've gotta think back to the history of Pilates. And that is, you know, Joe opens his gymnasium in New York City in like the thirties, you know, and he's working with a lot of dancers in New York who are on Broadway, or who are, you know, performing in a performing arts capital of the world.
[00:04:53] So a lot of the pictures, the archival footage of people doing Pilates, [00:05:00] also the people who then became the next generation of teachers, they have this dancer aesthetic, they have this dancer training, and there is a lot about dance that has to do with the shape and what it looks like. It's, you know, that visual, it should look like.
[00:05:18] So a lot of that came over and crossed over into Pilates because when you're a Pilates teacher, you always teach from your experience. And so when you're working with dancers and you are a dancer, you're gonna use dance phrases. You're going to, you know, look at this dancer ideal. And there's not a lot of diversity in that ideal. It tends to be very narrow.
[00:05:41] I think there's also something about, you know, Pilates being very trendy and popular and kind of hip right now, which I mean, awesome. I would love more people to do Pilates, like I'm very glad that it's popular and whenever something is trendy and it starts trending on social media, the algorithms of YouTube and [00:06:00] TikTok and Instagram also really favor and promote certain body types and it is very easy to see one type of body doing Pilates or demonstrating Pilates. And you're seeing Pilates, but it's only on this one size person and there's, you know, something about your trainer being really fit when you're at the gym that this sort of unconscious like, oh, well they look good, you know, whatever good is, then you know, I wanna look like that, so I'm gonna work with them.
[00:06:34] There's also an exclusivity. You know, I don't know if I can do it. Like, I don't know if, you know, I would fit in in these places and that's kinda like the mythos, you know, like that's this Pilates body and that's not, you know, researched history. But that's what I'm thinking about in terms of like, where did this one, you know, physical shape be, this Pilates body. When did this become [00:07:00] something?
[00:07:02] But here's the deal, and that is strength doesn't look one way. Flexibility doesn't look one way. Coordination doesn't have just one look. And what I'm gonna dive into after the break is a reality television show that I recently watched about trying to find the perfect body, and this wasn't a Pilates body. This was the perfect body, like the strongest body, and what we in the Pilates land might learn a little bit from this random reality show I saw on Netflix. That's coming up next.
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[00:08:47] Okay, so we're gonna go down a bit of a rabbit hole, but I pinky promise you that there are some very clear connections to Pilates and this notion of having a Pilates body that, um, I [00:09:00] shared in the first bit.
[00:09:01] So there is a reality show called Physical 100, uh, it's a Korean reality show. It's called 피지컬: 백 , but it's this Korean show, and as I mentioned, it's about finding the perfect body and the strongest body, the most capable.
[00:09:19] And what I liked about this show is they drew from lots of different types of strong people to begin with. So they weren't just picking, you know, power lifters, right? They chose Olympic athletes who had competed in the luge, who had competed in skeleton. They looked at ex-military people, CrossFitters, bodybuilders, wrestlers. Even a Pilates teacher they had there, and they had a diversity of body sizes. There were some really big guys who were doing heavier lifting things, but then there [00:10:00] were also smaller people who might be, uh, there was a fencer, there was a dancer. There's, you know, so, definitely a big diversity in terms of like what everyone's sport was and what, you know, types of strength their sport needed, like the runners and the swimmers, but then also firefighters and a police officer, you know. And then you know, the premise of the show to find the strongest person. We're gonna do tasks, we're gonna eliminate people.
[00:10:31] And I don't think that the show itself was perfect because I think that a lot of the tasks were biased towards certain types of strength or certain size people. Like if a really big guy goes against a really small guy, like even with all of the advantages that you have of being small and the advantages you have being big, like you were just, like you didn't always stand a chance. And then there were some team things and people were getting eliminated when maybe they individually could have [00:11:00] progressed further in the competition, but their team lost whatever task was.
[00:11:04] But what I do think that the show got right was explaining that what I shared in the first episode, like strength looks different in different bodies and there are different types of strength. And I think for Pilates bodies, um, which if you're doing Pilates, as I said, you already have one, our bodies are gonna look different. There's a huge degree of human variability, and one of the things we love about Pilates is that it's for anyone, it's for any time in your life. Pilates can really meet you where you are.
[00:11:41] But I can tell you as a teacher that the Pilates that I did with my youngest client, who is maybe 13 years old, is very different from the Pilates that I do with my client who's in their twenties than with my client who's in their sixties, and with my client who's in their [00:12:00] eighties, you know. So what we can do, what we naturally have a capability for, and what we've done for a long period of time.
[00:12:11] Like even if you didn't have the innate ability to touch your toes or something, maybe you worked at it really hard and now you can. And so that even in that example, like the flexibility of one person who's come such a long way for them, like it's very difficult to compare it to, you know, anyone else's body and say, this person who's contortionist level flexible. You know, like it, it's very difficult to make these comparisons, especially in terms of better than, worse than.
[00:12:39] And what we know in research and also in reality is that there isn't one ideal way of doing anything movement related that we all want to emulate. There's not one perfect posture that if you have this posture, you will never be in [00:13:00] pain and you will never get injured and you will never ever have anything happen to you because this is perfect. Like that doesn't exist. We know from studying the way people's muscles fire in movements that there isn't even an ideal order in how the muscles fire or how much the muscles fire. Like there is so much variability.
[00:13:27] This Pilates body, you know, maybe I'm interpreting this really narrowly or, or narrowly or really, you know, kind of in bad faith, like expecting the worst of people who are saying Pilates body. But when I see language that's like, oh, you know, grow long, lean muscles when you do Pilates. Like, first of all, Pilates is not gonna make your arms longer. It's not gonna make your legs longer. It's not gonna turn you into a hundred pound or 45 kilogram ballerina. Like that isn't gonna happen. And if your muscles get longer, but your bones stay the same length and your skin is the [00:14:00] same size, like do you just have floppy muscles in hanging around inside of you? Like obviously not. Like we know that that's not what happens.
[00:14:07] Like some of it I think is, is not great marketing because it's not possible. Like Pilates can only be a piece of your wellness picture in terms of, you know, it also includes your diet and your sleep and your mental health and your social relationships. Like Pilates is amazing, but it's not going to change your DNA. Also, like a lot of what we look like is genetics and you know, you can't make yourself taller than you are. You could stand up taller if you were slumped or you know, if you were always hunched over, like potentially you could stand up taller, but I can't make your body bigger than it is. You know what I mean?
[00:14:54] And like we know that, but sometimes those messages happen and like we don't always know that. [00:15:00] So this ideal of a Pilates body, I hope I've shown you, is not a real ideal or something that you should aim for, unless that is what you want to aim for, but don't aim for it because it's a Pilates body. Aim for it because it's the aesthetic that you want, if that makes sense.
[00:15:22] We know that strength looks different on different people. We know that the Pilates exercises that we do might change over time, that we know that what each shape that we make in our exercise, and I think teaser is a really good example of this, it's gonna look different on different bodies. And if you don't look like how the teacher looks or if you don't look like how the flashcard looked like, that's okay because that flashcard doesn't have your body. You know what I mean?
[00:15:53] I think more realistically when we're talking about, you know, Pilates giving you a Pilates body, like, there's lots of [00:16:00] amazing things that Pilates can do and I feel like I talk about them every episode, but they're so important. Because Pilates can be part of your rehabilitation journey if you're recovering from an injury. Pilates can help you meet physical activity guidelines as a strength training session. Pilates can help your mental health and be time that's just for you where you can get away from work and family and other stress, right? Pilates can have a social component if you're getting to see, um, your friends when you go to class or talk with a teacher or hang out at the studio. Pilates can help you feel more confident in what your body can do, and that confidence continues to grow as you get stronger, as you get more flexible, as you meet your movement goals. Pilates can be part of a weight loss plan if that's what's important to you, along with diet and you [00:17:00] know, other factors. But it can definitely be a piece of that if that's your goal.
[00:17:05] But the big thing and what it comes down to is that I'm a teacher and I've had clients who are teenagers all the way through their eighties, and there is no one Pilates body. And I would never tell a client or anyone who was in class with me that I wanted them to look a certain way or they couldn't do Pilates unless they look this way. Pilates is so awesome and so vast and so creative, and it can look different and still be Pilates. In conclusion, let's redefine Pilates body to be the body of someone who does Pilates instead of some very narrow physical aesthetic ideal.
[00:17:49] Really big thank you to all of the supporters and members of the podcast. Thank you so much for being part of this project, and thank you so much for, uh, reaching out on that [00:18:00] Buy Me A Coffee page. Really big shout out to the newest members and support. Aly, Gina, Julie, Tina, and Janette. I really appreciate you. I can't wait to meet you in our coffee chat happening soon. Um, if you wanna be a part of this project and if you wanna hang out with me and ask your burning Pilates questions, head over to that Buy Me A Coffee page and join.
[00:18:25] I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.
[00:18:39] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available [00:19:00] everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:19:02] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.