This Is Pilates! A Reflection On March Matness

If you google search “Pilates body” or look at most fitness marketing, you’ll notice a trend. Images of women in sports bras with long hair, visible abs, and toned, but not too toned, arms and legs.

blog_wide_thisispilatesThis in itself isn’t a bad thing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these women’s bodies. However, what’s missing is a representation of anyone who doesn’t fit this description, which would be most of us, myself included.

In my opinion, this is a problem. When you only ever see “perfect” bodies that look nothing like your own, it creates a skewed sense of what normal is and can leave you feeling defeated. It sends a message that you don’t belong and it makes you wonder if there’s a place for you in fitness or Pilates.

As a Pilates teacher, I firmly believe that Pilates is for anyone who wants to do it, regardless of their shape, size, flexibility or fitness level and that it’s a personal practice that goes far beyond flat abs and long, lean muscles. Sure, that’s what might bring you to the work, but it’s not why you stay.

You stay, because it feels amazing and helps you realize how much you’re capable of, but sometimes when you’re scrolling through Instagram looking at objectively beautiful women doing impressive exercises or reading an article criticizing Pilates teachers who fail to look the part, you forget this. You question your right to show up as a teacher or as a student and it makes you less likely to pursue wellness and share the best parts of yourself with the world.

I wanted to send a different message.

This year for March Matness, started and supported by Benjamin Degenhardt, I got together a group of Pilates teachers with diverse bodies and backgrounds to do a photoshoot of the classical work. For 31 days under the hashtag #ThisisPilates, I posted these images with movement tips and personal stories about everything from what it felt like to be a curvy instructor in an industry that values smallness to what it’s like to be a Pilates teacher and lose your core after a complicated pregnancy and surgery.

I braced myself for the backlash from posting anything other than fitness “perfection,” but it never came. Rather, my Instagram was flooded with positive comments from Pilates instructors and enthusiasts saying how empowering it was to see women with different body types doing the exercises and sharing their stories.

A lot of people said, “Thank you. I needed this.”

Honestly, I needed this too.

Doing this project reinforced my belief that the Pilates community is made up of strong powerful people who want to the best for the people around them and that what we say and put into the world matters.

The problem was never our bodies. It’s the messaging and we have the power to change it.

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Photos by Rebecca Anne Photography

Nikki Naab-Levy

About Nikki Naab-Levy

Bodhi Master Instructor

Nikki Naab-Levy, B.S. Exercise Science, is a Pilates teacher, massage therapist and Balanced Body Bodhi Master Trainer in Tacoma, WA. Using her 10+ years experience in the fitness industry, she shows people who struggle with injury how to move better, so they can get fit with less pain. Her fitness wisdom has been featured in the Seattle Times, MindBodyGreen, The Huffington Post, and Men’s Fitness. When she’s not teaching a sneaky hard Pilates class, you can find her hiking in the Pacific Northwest with her husband K.C., nerding out on podcasts, and chain-drinking Americanos. Check out her blog for inspiration and info on all things intelligent movement at