Raven Ross’s Pilates community, PilatesBodyRaven, is rising through the ranks of the Internet’s most valued fitness spaces.
Ross, who previously starred in the reality dating show Love is Blind, feels ecstatic to see her business grow. But that joy is not without a sense of responsibility, as the master instructor aims to use her platform to address a lack of diversity in fitness and wellness as well as gaps in reproductive health knowledge—all through Pilates.
“I think Pilates is so unique,” Ross tells Sweet July. “It really has the ability to break itself down to the most fundamental movement patterns more than any other modality that I’ve tried or that I enjoy.
Ross, who also has backgrounds in both yoga and professional dancing, has a special appreciation for how Pilates can cater to specific bodies and needs. “I’ve worked with so many different bodies,” she says. “I just see how Pilates is beneficial to everyone at any point in their life because it’s able to meet you where you are.”
Ross’ career as a Pilates instructor was already thriving before her Love is Blind appearance, but she says the TV show experience did help her in business in unexpected ways. “It helped me develop thicker skin,” says Ross. “Before, I had a lot more fear of what other people thought. I had a lot more insecurities, which are normal, but I think once you put yourself on this very public platform, it’s different.”
This, Ross says, helped her be more courageous and daring. “Now, I live with less fear and a little bit more freedom. That really helps in business because I think as women, especially women of color, we do pull back a little bit and have more fear. We’re constantly scanning the horizon. Now, I’m just like, ‘We’re gonna try it and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”
And her courage is paying off. With almost 1 million followers on her personal Instagram and over 6 million views on her YouTube classes, she’s quickly becoming a force in the fitness world. She’s also hosted pop-ups in various cities, which she’ll be bringing back this year, starting with places like Philadelphia and Chicago. “It’s beautiful to see the community growing and to see all of the faces because everyone is so different,” says Ross. “That is my favorite thing about it.”
Ross’ offerings are diverse and specific to certain needs, like lower or upper body strength, cardio fitness, or posture. It’s appreciated within a field where instructors sometimes don’t separate their workouts by needs or levels, leaving students a little lost. Among the most unique of her classes are the ones tailored to menstrual, prenatal and postnatal health. She just recently launched a new series on YouTube—Pilates for Your Period—which has been a huge success, and the workouts are even separated by specific symptoms. One video focuses on relieving cramps, bloating and mood changes. Another is targeted for stiffness, tension and cramps.
Listening to her community is what helped Ross realize she wanted to expand to classes focused on reproductive health. “I feel like beneficial movement modalities don’t really exist on the internet for free or at an accessible price,” she says. “At the studio I worked at or with some of my friends who just had a baby, they often wouldn’t know what to do. That’s not a part of the maternity practice here in the U.S., so people are kind of lost.” Because of this lack of education, Ross adds, new mothers often either avoid exercising or don’t adjust their routine, which might lead to health complications or injury. She wants to change that.
The New Orleans native and longtime Dallas resident now lives in Philadelphia, a move partially spurred by the stripping of rights in the South. “I’ve been a woman in places where being a woman is probably only going to get harder in the near future,” says Ross. “That’s something that I’ve definitely thought about and seen other people experience.” She’s learned a lot from her best friend’s mother, who has a non-profit that focuses on birth equity for people of color. “I realized that the level of care and information that we’re getting is not the same.”
That’s why Ross believes it’s important for more women of color to enter the fitness space. Most of us know all too well the feeling of wanting to do something great for our bodies and entering a space where no one looks like us. “My entire career, I was the only person of color typically teaching at the studios I taught at,” says Ross. “And then finally, once I got to a place where I could become a Master Trainer and lead my own sessions and teach new instructors, I knew I wanted to be at the highest level to encourage other people of color to get there too or at least start to have a presence.”
So when she sees women of color attending her classes or participating in her online community, she makes sure to encourage them to feel at home. “I gravitate towards them. I [think], ‘Thank you. Please come and take up this space.”
Ross has big dreams for her Pilates business. “I want to have my own teacher training program and be able to give scholarships and teach other women how to be leaders in whatever fitness modality that they choose.” Also, by the end of this year, she hopes to have a finished app where she can do more live classes and specific content.
When asked if she’d prefer to leave the Love is Blind experience behind and be known just for her Pilates community, Ross is thoughtful. “I think in some ways…sure. Now, I’m in a new relationship, in a new city. I’m at a very different point in my life. And in other ways, so many people—especially other women— have resonated with my story and connected with me through [the show]. So I still want to leave space for that. I feel like, in my case, I can’t have one without the other.”