I recently posted a Reel on Instagram that I’d filmed over a year before. It was a tip on how to help prevent clients from leaning over too much while doing Front Rowing. It was meant for other Pilates instructors. I was at my heaviest weight at the time, but I was actually the healthiest and strongest I had ever been, and I did at least an hour of Pilates every day.
The only person who commented said, ‘Right, because I’m definitely going to take advice off of a woman who clearly looks like they go to the gym a lot.’ They meant it sarcastically because, at the time, I was heavier than I currently am. I get these kinds of comments on TikTok every day now – people tell me that they wouldn’t take a Pilates class from me because I’m chubbier than they’d like. I don’t look the way they think a Pilates instructor should look. They want their instructor to be slim or look strong and shredded. I understand that, and I know that I’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea.
There are some people who actually like me for the same reason that some people dislike me. I don’t look like a ‘typical’ Pilates teacher, and they tell me that they feel comfortable with me because of it. They’d be too intimidated to work with an instructor who was slimmer than me or seemed to be healthier than me.
The truth is that weight and appearance are not the only indicators of health. In the video that I posted on Instagram, I’d put on weight because of birth control, but I was actually more flexible, strong, balanced, and physically capable than I had ever been. Could younger skinnier Norah do any of the Pilates that I was capable of doing in that video? Not a chance.
The other day, I had a meeting with a new client who had just stopped working with an instructor who was slim and strong. That instructor refused to accommodate the client’s disability. That’s why she found me – because I specialize in disability, and I am known for teaching adaptive classes and providing lots of modifications for clients who need them. The instructor who looks the best isn’t always the most knowledgeable, compassionate, flexible, understanding, or helpful.
The thinnest girl in your Pilates class might not always be the healthiest girl. I have taught so many curvy clients who are strong, healthy, capable, and dedicated to their well-being. Some of my curvier clients can do Pilates exercises that I can’t do, and are actually stronger than me. To judge someone’s health based only on their appearance is incredibly judgemental, narrow-minded and, frankly, stupid.
In the last decade, I have been every size between 109 and 170 pounds, and I was just as miserable at 115 pounds as I was at 150 pounds. Losing weight won’t necessarily make you any happier, more confident, more successful, more capable. It has no correlation to your worth.
I think we have to shift perspective and work out for our mental health first. Exercise because it makes you feel good, because it helps with depression and anxiety. It can improve both your energy levels and the quality of your sleep. When you prioritize your mental health and the fact that exercise simply makes you feel good, you can stop worrying about other things that aren’t really that important.
That slim girl in your class has problems and insecurities you know nothing about. Thinness and attractiveness don’t inoculate us against heartbreak, rejection, sadness, loss, grief, or unhappiness. We have to stop looking at aesthetics as the goal for exercise and instead focus on holistic wellness and happiness.