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Finding Julie: How Pilates Helped Me with My Body Issues

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Pilates Anytime's Julie Frazer discusses how practicing Pilates helps her conquer fears and insecurities about her body.

Lately, I've been hearing a lot more about "body confidence" and why we all should be "body positive."

While I’m glad these phrases are helping many women accept and love their bodies as they are, they never resonated with me. So, if you’re hoping this article is going to be all about the joys of finally coming to terms with my body, here’s the spoiler alert: it isn’t. At least not completely.

I have struggled with weight and body confidence issues my entire adult life, and even most of my childhood. From the moment I needed to shop for my first bra in third grade, I resented being a woman, partially because I wasn't one.

I was eight years old when I first started developing, which was much earlier than most of my classmates. I often felt different, alone, and a little unsure of myself. So, instead of celebrating my newfound feminine body, I felt like my safest option was to hide it in shame. I used food as a coping mechanism and a way to ignore my mixed feelings about puberty. And I’m sure that I don't have to tell you, dear reader, about the cycle of shame eating and its lasting effects.

When Doing the "Work" Doesn't Work

So how did I, as an adult woman, address and combat this vicious cycle? I worked hard to remain mentally fit. I processed feelings, read self-help articles and books, and listened to inspiring podcasts. I practiced mindfulness, meditated, and tried new spiritual practices as well. I did, and continue to do, all the things.

I always fervently believed that doing this "work" would be enough. I thought that one day I would wake up, look in the mirror, and suddenly see a confident, thin, beautiful woman staring back at me.

Here's the thing, this "work" never worked.

Why? Because I never did the external work. Nor did I want to.

A lot of my resistance stemmed from being unable to reconcile who I was on the inside with the woman on the outside.

When you grow up feeling like “Fatso Woman" (the name my classmates called me in third grade), it’s an identity that's difficult to shake, even in adulthood. Every sports, dance, or exercise class seemed to bring back the same feelings: I don’t belong to the fit world, I don’t know how to continue, and I don’t know if I’m worthy enough to try.

When you grow up feeling like “Fatso Woman”... it’s a hard identity to shake even in adulthood.
This might seem dark or even melodramatic, but it's a reality many women face.

I’ve consistently stopped myself from exercising or trying to better my body because I was afraid. But I never realized or acknowledged just how much fear was informing my decisions. I thought it was just because I was lazy and fundamentally unable to be fit. The identity of "Healthy Woman" seemed to elude me.

the author, age 9
Because the word “Pilates” was synonymous in my mind with the word “abs,” I truly thought this mode of exercise could never be for me. I had, in fact, found enough courage to attempt a Mat Pilates class in college, but strained my neck during what I imagine was some version of the "Series of 5". When I was called out by the instructor for being unable to achieve proper form, my feelings of failure ran deep.

Imagine my surprise at finding solace and acceptance in the one place I thought was “not for you at all”: a Pilates studio.

Finding Myself in Pilates

This is the part where it gets better. And it is actually better.

A few months after starting work at Pilates Anytime, I took my first private Pilates session with Mette Hanson in El Segundo, California, and I was blown away. You read that right: I worked for an online Pilates company and did not practice Pilates. For like, a long time too. Which more or less explains how I felt about Pilates. Up until then, it was just an exclusive club where I was not allowed - even though I worked at the center of it all!

In Pilates, I was finally seen for who I was, not what my body looked like.

Pilates turned out to be the one place where I wasn’t a fat, lazy girl who didn’t belong. There I was, so new to moving my body in intricate and precise ways, and I was met with warmth, compassion, and patience. I was finally seen for who I was, not what my body looked like.

For the first time in my life, I was truly connecting with my physical body and feeling actual, real muscles - some that I never knew existed (Do you know you have muscles in your back and on the sides of your abs?!). I could feel parts of my body that I hadn’t connected to since puberty. My hips, my arms, my legs, my belly. I had hidden those parts from myself and never wanted to move, because moving meant that I had to feel my body. But, on the Cadillac, I felt strong. I felt potential. I felt understanding. I felt pride.

Julie at the Pilates Anytime studio

Every new session and different exercise instilled in me increased confidence. I suddenly felt worthy of more respect.

The physicality of developing posture, toning, and strengthening, mixed with the mind-body connection of breathing, concentrating, and being present created the most potent self-love potion I ever experienced.

In the studio, I can find that quiet reprieve from all the noise of "not-good-enough." Pilates doesn’t care if your left shoulder is higher than your right or if your core is weak. These aren't reasons for insecurity anymore. Pilates stares them down and says, “Game on.”

Maybe I won't do it today, or even tomorrow, but one day I will do it - if I continually show up and practice.

I love how these lessons from Pilates are slowly permeating through all areas of my life. Everything I used to run from or think was too overwhelming, I can now view as Arabesque on the Reformer. Maybe I won't do it today, or even tomorrow, but one day I will do it - if I continually show up and practice.

Don't get me wrong. I love that my abs are coming in, and I can feel my thighs toning up for Summer. Yes, that’s happening, and it does help my self-confidence, no lie. But I know the most important thing is my newfound inner confidence that propels me forward, and this is happening because I'm also doing the external work. (If I slip, or my abs aren't quite as visible, it won't be the end of the world or my self-worth.)

Happy, healthy Julie celebrating her 25th birthday

Before you go and think I've completely turned into a beautiful butterfly, I’m still not perfectly in love with my body. There's still a part of me that thinks it's okay for me to not love me. The part that wants to run away from the realization that being a secure woman is a birthright.

I still self-sabotage and distract myself. I take months off from my Pilates practice, only to come back and rediscover the joy all over again. I drink on the weekends and binge-watch Netflix. I trash talk my body. I continue to look at all the pretty people in Los Angeles (and there are so many pretty people) and compare myself endlessly. I’m only human.

But - cue the cheese factor - I’m really starting to like myself. Just don’t let me know that.

About the Author

Julie Frazer

Julie lives in LA, but is a NorCal girl at heart. Outside of a Pilates studio, you can find her exploring the city, going to the beach, or hiking the trails. She’s into self improvement, and wants to be one of the Fab 5 when she grows up.


Comments

You are amazing and I love you.
Thank you for this. I’m a newcomer to Pilates, and it has also changed my relationship with my body and, in turn, with myself!
Well done Julie! 

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