IQGA – International Qi Gong Association

Does pilates really need a masculine rebrand for men to attend?

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The night before I attended my first reformer pilates session, I had a nightmare of such crippling anxiety that I awoke in a cold sweat, gripped with terror.

The nightmare featured, well, attending a reformer pilates class. (I mean, it did turn out that the dream-class was packed full of disdainful ballerinas, roughly 47 of them from memory, but otherwise it was pretty straightforward.) When I finally attended the class, the white-knuckle hellride through the worst of my subconscious seemed like a breezy stroll through a field of cherry blossoms.

Why are men so afraid of exercise that women like?
Why are men so afraid of exercise that women like? Photo: Stocksy

In other words, as I learned throughout my extensive rehabilitation program following a back injury, reformer pilates is tough as nails.

The aforementioned is why I laughed, then cried, when I saw that Vive Active was launching “Brolates” during November to raise funds and awareness for Movember.

Alas, “Brolates” isn’t some sort of beef-based hot drink: it’s pilates that men – real manly men – won’t be scared to try. Don’t just take my word for it, ask Guy Leech, former Ironman and Vive Active co-founder.

“There are so many things that us blokes can tend to think aren’t for ‘real men’ and these are the stigmas that Movember challenges,” Leech said ahead of the Brolates launch. “From talking about our feelings, to going to the doctor to get check ups, or doing a workout that doesn’t involve lifting massive, heavy weights or pouring with sweat.”

Leech went on to assure any curious onlookers that Joseph Pilates was indeed a “man’s man”, though there was no word on just how “manly” the Brolates sessions would be: i.e. would they be held in an ice-dungeon? Would they involve being snapped at by crocodiles? Would the reformers be set up with razor wire wrapped handles?

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And why stop at “Brolates”? Why not man up some other pussy sports, like ballet (Brollet!) or gymnastics (Bronastics!!)?

I laugh at Brolates (a bitter laugh, to be sure) not because it is indeed a manly man’s nothin’-girly-about-it activity, but because the irony of trotting out this sort of “things real men can’t do” essentialism, even in jest, while trying to raise funds for Movember is actually kind of heartbreaking.

Movember, after all, raises money and awareness for, among other things, men’s mental health and suicide prevention: “It’s time to have an honest conversation about mental health,” as their website runs.

While I appreciate that Vive Active is just doing its part in donating $1 from each “Brolates” pass throughout November, and isn’t necessarily wholly representative of Movember’s MO, there is something about this jokey approach to men’s health – and especially their mental health – that is starting to wear thin.

(And, yes, I also appreciate that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a “fun” campaigning drive once or twice a year, in the same way I’m not about to say the World’s Biggest Morning Tea needs to be dismantled, or to claim that daffodil pins or red noses are a tool of the state.)

Movember and events of its type can only do so much (and month-long drives are too easy to forget about the other eleven months of the year); the same can be said of social-led campaigns like #RUOK and #ItsOkToTalk.

The crisis in men’s mental health is catastrophe unfolding before our eyes that requires a solemn and urgent response. ABS data this year revealed that men over 85 have the highest suicide rate in the country, and that suicide rates for men in general were three times those of women.

We know that serious public safety campaigns, like the Victorian Transport Accident Commission’s nearly three decades’ worth of uncompromising road safety ads, do make a difference. (Public health campaigns are a little trickier to master, but we can learn plenty from those that have worked.)

We now take family violence seriously, and do so before movies and between ad-breaks during our favourite TV shows. Is it not time to do the same for the skyrocketing rates of suicide among men?

It’s true, “Brolates” and other events and campaigns of its ilk, will raise needed funds for men’s mental health research and support (as well as prostate and testicular cancer). But I worry that this “just joshing” approach to elbowing men into considering the mental health benefits of exercise, for example, subtly maintains a status quo in which we just accept the notion that men can’t or won’t do such “feminine” activities as talking about their feelings (or getting on a reformer machine).

This content was originally published here.