Negativity, Toxicity and the Weaponization of Social Media in the Pilates Community
Remember when social media used to be ….fun? Seems like eons ago, right? I’ve been on social media probably 11 years. At first, it was fabulous, reigniting old friendships, forging new ones. I was particularly chuffed to connect with fellow Pilates teachers from around the globe. Pre-Facebook, I had participated in the now defunct Pilates Connections forum online, but the Pilates Facebook community numbered in the hundreds, then thousands. It was exciting to discuss Pilates 24/7. I even co-founded my own forum with some friends, the Pilates Book Review and Discussion Club. Of course, there were arguments, but the positive largely outweighed the negative. And disagreements are natural and even healthy. Listening to and considering viewpoints that differ from our own help us grow as individuals and become more open-minded and tolerant. The forums abounded with lively and sometimes hilarious discussions about whether to wear shoes while teaching, best cues for the pelvic floor (“winking the anus”). We started having Friday questions, a great and fun way to interact with other Pilates geeks, learn more about the history of Pilates and early forms of physical culture. There were also technical and business questions. The forums were informative and amusing.
The honeymoon phase was unfortunately short-lived. Lively discussions turned heated, and then venomous. I learned that there was a classical and contemporary Pilates divide. People were kicked off of some forums or left of their own volition to create new ones. In this new social media world existed forums for classical Pilates teachers, forums for contemporary teachers, forums for contemporary teachers who wanted to become classical, forums for people with no particular affiliation. I realized that each “camp” felt bullied and derided by the others, and that many believed and loudly trumpeted their belief in the superiority of their training. I participated in all of the forums, choosing to interact with a variety of people instead of isolating myself among teachers who had the same training that I had. Some of the discussions in which I did get involved in were animated, and at times, tense; but overall, I mostly managed to avoid being sucked into conflict. I was fairly successful at maintaining friendships with diverse people, although some of them actively disliked each other. The key was not taking “sides” and recognizing that there were many viewpoints.
During the last few years, navigating the tricky Pilates waters became increasingly challenging. Facebook had already become rife with bitter disputes about politics and, more recently, subjects relating to the pandemic- masks, vaccination…. Although I used to enjoy the occasional debate (I used to be in the debate and Model UN teams in high school, and am an ex-lawyer), these arguments were neither productive nor constructive. I made a personal decision to avoid hot topics on social media and firmly resolved to distance myself from any Pilates disputes. My activity became limited to liking pictures of babies and pets, although I did and still do run a Pilates forum in France where most people tend to get along. Meanwhile, the old debates among the Pilates community about what was better, classical or contemporary, raged on and also gave way to new debates along similar lines, but now with “factions”. Additionally, newer teachers criticized older ones as being out of touch with science, and older teachers derided newer ones as being too far from the source to have anything important to share. Participants began to weaponize social media not only on Facebook but also on Instagram which initially was a safe haven where people just shared pretty pictures. Now began a new era of name calling and finger pointing and passive-aggressive (and sometimes simply aggressive) Instagram stories. Social media was officially no longer fun. The negativity and toxicity within these forums was magnified compared to the “real world “, as hiding behind a screen and trading barbs online is easier than having a meaningful conversation. This made the forums a stressful rather than safe and funspace to share. Even a seemingly benign act like « liking » or sharing a post became interpreted as choosing “sides”. Friendships became alliances. Dislikes became enemies. The result was inevitably an acute decline in social media activity.
The decline in social media activity is obviously a result of multiple factors. Pilates teachers are more worried about staying healthy and keeping their families and businesses alive during COVID than participating in petty disputes on social media. But in addition to having less time for digital interaction, there is unquestionably a social media burnout. It is a shame because we need each other more than ever. As we are reopening our businesses and trying to recover from a very difficult couple of years and also to integrate online classes into our business models, it is increasingly important that members of the Pilates community remain united. Most of us did not get into this business to make a fortune, but rather to help others move and feel better in their bodies. We don’t have time to reopen old wounds or inflict new ones. It is unhealthy and we should be using our energy and resources to help each other rebuild.
We need to get back to doing to using our tools and skills to be productive and helpful to our families, our friend, colleagues and students. You may be asking yourself, “who is this Rebekah person and why is she so self righteous ?” The answer is that I am no one and yet I am everyone. I’m not famous nor do I aspire to be famous. I’m just a mother of four kids (and a dog). I also am a Pilates teacher. My goals are to become the best version of myself as a teacher and a person, to help my students and my fellow teachers if and when I can. Probably your goals are pretty similar. So the next time you find yourself on social media ready to make a great clap-back or even encourage or “like” a negative or divisive post, ask yourself the important questions:
Who is this helping?
Is it really worth it?
I think you may realize the value in stepping back. And moving on. If you think I’m sticking my head in the sand, I’m okay with that. I have plenty of toys in my Pilates sandbox with which to play and hopefully, plenty of pals who want to do the same. Let’s remember why we became teachers.
Life is short.
Just keep calm and do Pilates.
About the Author
Rebekah is a supremely talented and accomplished human being. In fact, she is so accomplished that to list her myriad accomplishments would take too much time. Suffice it to say that she was voted best all-around in preschool and has saved a ladybug on more than one occasion. She is so nice to animals that she does not even have to be nice to other people. She does not post many pictures on facebook because she does not want others to feel bad about themselves. The word that people use most frequently to describe her is enchanting, although delightful is a close second. She teaches Pilates in her home studio in France (over 200 hours a week), where she is not above making her students do extra teasers if they question her authority or mock her accent. Yes, rumor has it that a few people have apparently dared mock her, but when we went to question them, we couldn’t find them anymore. *note- for those of you who don’t know me, this bio is meant to be humorous and there is no intention to offend animals, ladybugs or humans.