Last year I attended a ballet recital for a friend – these included kids (mostly girls) from age 3 to 18. What was utterly amazing to me was the way that these kids had no self-consciousness about their bodies – they were tall and short, lithe and stocky, in the midst of growth spurts (thin and gangly) and chubby. Yet everyone danced their hearts out, and sometimes their round bellies poked out from their costumes, occasionally quite a bit. There didn’t seem to be any judgment amongst the girls about themselves or the others.
I remember thinking at the time that things had changed since “my days” when there was more size segregation. But alas, I was too quick to judge…I ran across an article by Paula Kelso called Behind the Curtain: The Body, Control, and Ballet which is obviously about body image and dancing – it was sad to read this information, this is the part that got me…
"There have also been recent examples in the media, which suggest that not much has changed since the 1980s. For example, the Boston Ballet ballerina who died at 22 due to complications from an eating disorder (Segal, 2002). Management had told the dancer that she was “chunky” and that she needed to lose weight before she developed anorexia (Segal, 2002).
Another example occurred in San Francisco, where nine-year-old Fredrika Keefer was denied admission to San Francisco Ballet School because she was considered too short and chunky by administration. Keefer’s parents are suing alleging unlawful discrimination and sex discrimination because height and weight standards are much stricter for females than males.”
Apparently the 9-year-old girl was very talented and had already been in training. She was not allowed to audition, she was rejected on looks alone.
As a society, I like to hope that we are moving closer to the idea that you can just “be” – not be something for someone else. But sometimes I’m not sure that things are better or worse, seems like it depends on where you look. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadows. Here’s my antidote when I look too long at the shadows – Big Moves, Cause Everybody Can Dance.