All Bodies Are Pilates Bodies, Now What?
By Anula Maiberg, PMA®-CPT
My involvement with MarchMatness, the brainchild of my friend Benjamin Degenhardt, came about when he asked me to participate, in any capacity, as a "MarchMatness ambassador." I was so touched and honored but had no idea what I could possibly contribute. After a few weeks of panic, I realized that Benjamin didn't ask me because he thought I was the most Classically trained or the most balletic or the most knowledgeable Pilates teacher he knows. I realized he asked me because he likes my sense of humor and he likes me. I wanted to make him proud.
What came out naturally was the dress series. It was an honest representation of my sense of style and the general vibe I like to think I bring to my studio. I actually collect and wear vintage dresses and that is what I look like doing Pilates in them. The series felt very "matter of fact." I was able to combine my background in photography and my Pilates practice. March has now become a month that a lot of people look forward to – either to just enjoy, or to participate in by way of their own sense of expression.
The response was overwhelming and positive mostly because it was only limited to people in my circle. It didn't really go beyond friends and acquaintances (students and teachers) in the Pilates community. The second time around the expectations felt really high, so again I decided to keep it personal. I changed the setting from my personal bedroom to a photography studio and changed the wardrobe from dresses to my legging collection. The second time around Benjamin opened up the participation to literally anyone who wanted to hashtag a photo of themselves doing the original work. #MM2015 was all over my social media feed and certainly was not limited to Pilates professionals. A few students at my studio did some amazing projects. It was like everyone is just looking for an excuse to be creative and belong to something. It’s just a lot of fun and really encourages a sense of community between peers and Pilates lovers.
When “Pilatespocalypse” article came out I only really knew about it because one of my students knew I'd be interested and wanted to let me know she thought it was a bunch of BS. For some reason, it felt like a kick in the gut. It really got to me. I thought it felt like an ad for other forms of fitness (which are all great) but also got a few things right. It motivated me to call attention to my photo project to people outside my little bubble because that article was reaching a lot of readers. I contacted Well + Good and started a conversation. I asked them if they'd seen the article and wanted to know (since they are huge Pilates fans) if they'd want to do something in response, but not in direct response. It wasn't a call to action it was more of a conversation starter. We decided on a short interview and a showcase of my contributions to MarchMatness. Kept it simple by pointing to the positive part of Pilates. The artistry, the dedication and the joy. It all felt very natural and a case of good timing.
The Well + Good article was pretty much where my thought process ended. I didn't really think Huffington Post or Bust Magazine would pick it up. It was a lot of exposure very fast. "Going viral" was not my intention, but at first, all the attention felt fairly positive. After all, I made a phone call (something anyone of us is capable of doing) and changed the conversation from “Pilates is dead” to “Pilates is for everyone” – or so I thought.
Unfortunately, the conversation quickly shifted from a fun photo project and a sense of community to body politics. My personal shape then became more the issue. It’s sort of weird to me that we live in a world where someone my size is coined as "brave" for practicing Pilates on camera. The implication felt as if I was described as brave not for being good at my job, pursuing my passion, and building a community, but for documenting what I do despite my physicality. The awkwardness around imperfection is so out of control. There came a point where I really wanted to stop talking about it because I believe in actions. If I want the conversation around "body image" to be different I have to just change it and chatting about bravery and heroism of doing Pilates on camera while being a size 12 is just ridiculous.
I am not a life coach, a nutritionist, a health counselor or guru, and to be clear, becoming a “celebrity” is not among one of my life goals. I'm a Pilates teacher and small business owner. All I want is to keep creating a space for anyone to join and move for a fraction of their day, week, month, and year. There is a beautiful community of teachers and students at my studio. It’s the kind of studio where you don't feel like you have to “get into shape” before you attend. Students and teachers aren't held to impossible size and shape standards. This attitude creates an amazing sense of community. Students become familiar strangers to each other and sometimes become friends outside of Pilates class. This sense of community and togetherness is the true measure of my success and is certainly the more heroic accomplishment I would want to call attention to in a city of over seven million people.