Pilates helps build self-esteem in the teen years
By: Laura Bennetto | 13/01/2020
Pilates helps build self-esteem in the teen years
Young people aged 12 to 17 years go through major transitions— from primary school to secondary school, and from childhood to adulthood. They experience significant physical, mental, social and intellectual changes, in addition to becoming increasingly independent.
Often adolescents play sport, particularly when it is compulsory in primary school or the early years of high school. They may have enjoyed sport, however when sport becomes optional they drop out, for a wide range of reasons, including that sport became too competitive, or that the increased pressure on their time from school work. In addition to this, socialising and other commitments meant that sport was de-prioritised. In fact participation in sport halves during adolescence, dropping suddenly at age 15.
Alarmingly nine out of ten (92%) Australian 12–17 year-olds do not meet the Australian Physical Activity guidelines of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. As children age, they tend to engage in less physical activity and more sedentary screen-based activity.
Why is this a problem? Fewer than one in three Australians today aren’t getting enough physical activity to benefit their health generally and long-term habits are often formed in childhood and adolescence. By focusing on young people we can capitalise on the opportunities for intervention before unhealthy behaviours are established.
What we know about the teen years is that for multiple and complex reasons self-esteem can be incredibly low.
While low self-esteem can manifest in a number of ways, poor body image tends to be especially prevalent in young women. 1 in 5 students globally say they have missed school because they feel they don’t look good enough and 31% of teenagers are withdrawing from classroom debate because they don’t want to draw attention to the way they look. 
While mental health and self-esteem are complex and multifaceted there is growing evidence to support a number of protective factors. These being methods both internal and external that can be used to reduce the likelihood that a person will experience low self esteem. Physical movement has been identified as being one of these protective factors.
What role can Pilates play?
Forcing teens to participate in sport although good for their physical health is not the answer. So what is? It is important to acknowledge that members of this age group do not all perceive or experience sport in the same way. A product that works for one set of 12–17 year olds because of their barriers and motivations may not work for another. Reframing physical activity and experimenting with different types of movement may for some be useful.
Teens are underrepresented in the Pilates space, which is unfortunate because the benefits are huge. Pilates offers physical movement that can address a number of the factors outlined above. Including the ability to participate without the pressure of competition. The exercises of the Pilates method are taught specific to each individual’s goals and level of fitness. Physical and mental challenges are developed accordingly.
This helps to create a sense of achievement in a non-competitive environment and helps to establish self-confidence.
Further, Integral to Pilates is the potential to integrate proprioceptive information. Proprioception is voluntary movement based on one’s own sense of their relative position in space and effort being employed to complete the movement. Pilates enhances proprioception in a number of ways, for example body awareness through movement and imagery i.e where the body is moving in space and its relationship to the mat.
In addition the method aims to highlight how that movement feels. Interoception is the lesser known sense that helps you understand and feel what is going on inside the body i.e. sensations of warmth, sensations of the heart beating and breath, lightness or release of muscles or joints melting into the mat. These are all sensations that increase a sense of not only where the body is in space but how you feel about that sensation… Self-discovery. You yourself can only feel what you are experiencing. It is this process that may generate a more coherent experience of the body, as well as of the self. 
In addition to movement there are a myriad of studies linking social connectedness to adolescent wellbeing. Although Pilates is not a team sport, through mat work in particular there is a shared experience, which allows for connectedness and social interaction outside of the pressures of school, social media and the competitive nature of sport. Through sharing a common experience and growing together through shared challenges the opportunity to establish common ground and a strong bond can be created.
Finally The Butterfly Foundation encourages the shift from focusing on how the body looks to what the body can do its functionality. This is inherent to the practice of the Pilates. The ability to connect to the body through breath and to feel the body changing and becoming stronger in a relatively short amount of time is inspiring and can create a new relationship with the body. Allowing young people to experience this is an incredible gift, one that may see benefits both physical and emotional well into their future.
Pilates does have a remarkable effect on both physical wellbeing and mental health in young sedentary students.
A 2011 study found that Pilates-based mat exercises had positive impact on life satisfaction, perception of physical appearance, perception of functionality, and total physical self-concept.  While the study did focus on adult women, the benefits for a younger demographic are supported by a more recent study, which concluded that Pilates does have a remarkable effect on both physical wellbeing and mental health in young sedentary students. 
 VicHealth 2017, Victorians’ physical activity across life stages, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
 VicHealth, 2016, Sport participation in Victoria, 2015 Research summary, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011–2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.
 Kolnes, L-J. Exercise and physical therapy help restore body and self in clients with severe anorexia nervosa. Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, PB 4014 Ullevål Stadion, 0806 Oslo, Norway
 Cruz, A. and Fernandez, J. et al. Effects of Pilates-Based Exercise on Life Satisfaction, Physical Self-Concept and Health Status in Adult Women, Journal Women and Health, 51(3), 2011, 240-255.
 Smruti Swagatika Dash P T. / International Journal of Medicine and Health Profession Research. 6(1), 2019, 112-117