Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ballet, Beauty and Body Image - Back in the News

The relationship between dance and eating disorders is nothing new. What is new, perhaps, is the public reaction when a dancer is criticized for not embracing the ideal.

Recently, a comment by a New York Times critic sparked a firestorm of reaction on the Internet and several media outlets. The Nutcracker, a much-loved holiday ballet, was being performed in the big apple by the New York City Ballet. The Sugarplum fairy, arguably one of the most important roles, was represented by a woman who was not stick-thin. Clearly displeased by this woman’s shape, the critic commented that the dancer had obviously eaten a few too many sugarplums. When asked to retract this comment, he refused.

Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008, practiced classical ballet as a child, and at the age of 12, began her own struggle with anorexia. Regarding the disparaging comment, Kirsten said, “It made me very upset. This is not the job of anyone, especially anyone in the press, to comment about an individual’s weight, when they don’t know what ballet training is like or what that world is like at all.”

Jenifer Ringer, the dancer in question and former anorexic, explained on a national morning talk show that a variety of body types was one of the most positive aspects of her dance company. Dancers were tall, short, womanly or waif-like, and all, beautiful dancers.

“We have had dancers come to Remuda Ranch for treatment,” said Amy Wasserbauer, Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Director at Remuda Ranch. “Some are so emaciated and exhausted that they just can’t dance anymore. Perhaps even sadder is when an individual comes to treatment because audience members say they cannot bare to watch a dancer who is so skinny and sick looking.”

The world of ballet is the setting for a movie entering theaters now. The Black Swan, which just received several Golden Globe nominations, explores many aspects of a ballerina’s life, including body image issues.

Regarding this weight-obsessed world, Kirsten said, “The ballet ideal is just so thin. The culture rewards and promotes those who are thinner; male dancers refuse to lift or work with a female who is ‘overweight.’ It is just ridiculous.”

What advice would this former dancer offer young ballerinas today? “No matter what, do not sacrifice your health. It’s very difficult because it is an environment where you are taught to never voice a complaint or stand up for yourself,” Kirsten said. “There are many forms of dance and other ways to express yourself creatively outside of the dance world. If you have to give it up, then that is what you have to do. That is what I did. I still love the ballet and the music. I love to watch healthy women dance.”

At Remuda Ranch, we applaud those on Facebook and twitter, or TV talk shows who say it is not necessary for dancers to be gaunt and sickly. We also applaud women such as Kirsten Haglund who actively work to educate the public and prevent eating disorders. We no longer want to watch women or girls literally dance and diet until they die.

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