Ray on Ladder Barrel

“But Ray…, you are giving it [Pilates] away,” my master Pilates trainer scrutinized as I expressed my vision of a more inclusive pilates studio. She cautioned that opening a studio of this nature was premature. I knew my fellow colleagues meant well, but the moment I earned my Classical certification I was opening a Pilates studio. I felt an obligation to break away from a broken fitness system that did not value ALL bodies.  My own personal experiences in fitness/ Pilates proved the only true way to make Pilates completely inclusive and diverse is by making it affordable enough to cross the social and economic divide.

Recent events have challenged American society to reconcile the inequities within the LGBTQI, Black, and Indigenous communities of color (BIPOC). The archetype of what the ideal fitness body is has historically excluded non-white bodies. The Pilates sector more so than other fitness sectors reinforces this archetype. There is a palpable “othering” of BIPOC & LBGTQIA bodies in Pilates. Pilates is bombarded by images of extremely thin, white, female presenting bodies. These physical and racial archetypes sit atop an unreachable zenith; conversely, creating the risk that all other bodies are viewed as “incorrect” before any assessment based on actual physicality is gauged. Although well intentioned, the fitness industry has inherited these biases that are baked into the DNA of fitness. Opening a studio that is inclusive is my way to give back to my communities. This is my social justice.

As a Classical Pilates apprentice, I was taught that everyBODY needed Pilates training, and I agree. Pilates is the complete fitness training system of self-discovery that once learned is retained like riding a bike.  The first thoughts I had early in my training was how Pilates could have a positive impact within these underrepresented communities.

When I did Pilates research I was bombarded by images of white, thin mostly female presenting bodies and as a Black full-figured woman I felt let out, overlooked, and that I did not belong in this fitness space at all. The few black or brown bodies I did see shared the same tall, thin body type. It was almost as if they were merely painted brown. I quickly discovered that my curvy, bigger, body type was either pre-judged as unfit or was de-feminized and mostly used to demonstrate the “man/ strength exercises.”  I came to expect that taller, thinner, bodies would be used to demonstrate “graceful and elegant” exercises. As I progressed into the Advanced System, I stopped listening to others that did not share my body type.  Instead, I opted to use my education in Kinesiology to strengthen my own muscle groups.

I knew my experience resonated with millions of people across the country, but I never  expressed my grievances because there was nowhere in San Francisco I could escape this untenanted basis against my body.  Especially, when my teachers/ trainers were wonderful people who only wished the best for me.  Like me, they were victims of a broken fitness system that reflected the larger inequities. This is the reason I could not explain to my colleagues that opening a Pilates Studio with an inclusive and more affordable business model was not  premature; in fact it was long overdue

The Pilates School SF is an inclusive, diverse, and complete fitness training program.  Affordability is the keystone to ensure everyone across the social-economical landscape can be a part of a learning environment that is representative of our society as a whole.  Being a Black Pilates Studio owner can empower the BIPOC & LBGTQI communities to become teachers; effectively shifting from the monothical white body type to a sweeping collage of everyBODY.  This is my social justice.