Sharing the struggles and celebrating the triumphs of being African American in the ballet world and beyond.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thin is in!...Yeah, we know


A small post on the website Any Body reads:

Ballet (if you can believe it) is an even sicker industry than fashion. Not only are students and professional dancers constantly suffering from body anxiety and emotional and psychological abuse from their teachers, most ballet dancers also have eating disorders. If you've seen "Black Swan" you've seen how horrible the life of a ballet dancer can be. How can we help them to heal and change the standards of the ballet industry?

I am not sure that we could ever really "change" these standards. However, there is finally an ever so gradual trend developing towards broadening ballet’s perspective. But for many dancers, the damage has already been done.

My struggle with my body image began as a very young woman and sadly continues to this day. After continuous involvement with a career that puts such emphasis on the body, and the media, from Hollywood to high fashion, perpetuating a "rail thin" aesthetic, it's no wonder so many women and girls find it hard to overcome this struggle. While many friends and colleagues would tell me how great I looked,  I received no such reassurance from my instructors until I began to shed significant weight from already constantly conditioned physique. This lack of approval made me question the sincerity and/or credibility of my supporters. I couldn’t possibly look good without the blessings of my company masters could I? I tried to come to terms with ballet’s rigid expectations, as well as my own high standards. Although,  I wanted desperately to meet the approval of directors and instructors, my own good sense and grounding refused to allow the extreme to become my reality. I would often stall my own progress in the name of rationality. Whenever I would get midway through yet another starvation-like diet, I would then retreat for fear that I was giving into something which I didn't believe in. I created a vicious cycle that caused a lot of frustration throughout my career. I remember trying almost every diet known to man. However, at the end of the day, a button I recall seeing as a child summed these experiences up best: " I have been on a diet for a week and all I lost was seven days!" How many times that expression rang true for me. 

Looking back, I can laugh at all the ridiculous fads I experimented with, but for some dancers, this is no laughing matter. I empathize with those dancers who suffer so much with self-image, especially at very young ages. I know there are more and more efforts being made towards helping younger dancers deal with issues of weight and my prayer is that such efforts will be successful. I must admit I am a bit skeptical. It seems a bit contradictory to expect dancers to reach unhealthy goals in a healthy way. Maybe it is possible...we shall see.

I found this video not only disturbing, but it truly saddens me. Unfortunately, I know of far too many with this same mentality.