I’m Not Overweight – Fat Ballerina Part 2

This is really a continuation of my post yesterday about the ballerina who was criticized for looking like she had eaten “…one sugarplum too many…”.

I think that this is a horrible thing to have happened to her (especially since she has a history of anorexia).  I support her in whatever way she wants to handle the situation.  I’m telling you that because I want you to know that I’m not criticizing her when I mention that in every interview I’ve seen and heard from her she has said “I’m not overweight”.

The reaction of a lot if not most of the comments I’ve read about it have been “But she’s not overweight”.

I submit that a discussion of if she is overweight is not the most important discussion to have. To me the question isn’t “Is she overweight?” – as if there is some weight at which one deserves to be the butt of jokes – I think the question is “Why is this important?”

Jenifer Ringer can leap in the air and has enough hang time to do a perfect split with beautiful extension – and she is SMILING while doing it.  Feel free to try it at home.  I’ll wait…

Go ahead and grab an ice pack, I’ll still be here when you get back…

Seriously, why is flying through the air in perfect splits not enough?   Why is it important that she be thinner while she does it?  It makes me think that this is not about the dancer’s issues, but about the viewer’s issues.

If someone is challenged by looking at snakes, the “cure” is to either avoid  snakes, or get therapy/hypnosis etc. to deal with the phobia.  The person with the challenge typically claims and owns that the issue is theirs – they don’t ask snakes to try to look more like bunnies.  However, if someone is challenged by looking at a fat performer, the “cure” seems to be that the performer should change their body.  It is not a perfect comparison but I think for many people the belief is that being repulsed by a warm-blooded, human fat performer is the natural course of things and therefore requires far less introspection, self work, and respect than if they were experiencing the same feelings in the presence of a cold-blooded reptile.

The reality is that in order to be successful as a fat dancer we have not just to dance beautifully, but we also have to somehow find a way to overcome other people’s stereotypes and preconceptions.  When people see us they often expect us to be slow, imprecise, and lumbering, and so they are training their eyes on us looking for those things.  Because that’s what they expect we have to work doubly hard to overcome their preconceptions.  There is also a tendency (especially among judges and coaches who aren’t my coach – the awesome Rowdy Dufrene) to blame every mistake on weight and to assume that every dance technique problem could be solved by having a smaller body.

We also have to overcome or at least circumvent the audience’s projected body image issues – for which we become unwitting targets just by walking on stage.  It makes some people severely uncomfortable and even angry that they are “struggling” with the 10 pounds they think they need to lose, even sometimes hating their bodies and wanting to hide them, while we are happily dancing through life flaunting a body that is 100 pounds heavier than theirs. Again, these are issues that lie squarely on the lap of the viewer and therefore typically constitute a big flaming sack of not-my-problem…

…except that, as a society, we can do better.  And there is a fat little girl out there right now who loves to dance and is scared to because of what people like Mr. Macauley will say.  So keeping that little girl in mind, I would suggest that the next time you hear someone make a comment about someone else’s weight, don’t ask yourself “Is that person really overweight”, ask them “Why does it matter”?

9 thoughts on “I’m Not Overweight – Fat Ballerina Part 2

  1. “I would suggest that the next time you hear someone make a comment about someone else’s weight, don’t ask yourself “Is that person really overweight”, ask them “Why does it matter”?”

    Very good question. I think if you put someone on the spot with that question, they would have two answers, one of which they will give. They won’t respond with the second answer but we know it’s there.

    Of course, the answer we always hear is “Because it’s bad for your health.” I know you’ve discussed this many times, as have all HAES proponents. And our answers have to be repeated over and over again.

    The other, unspoken answer, is: “Because it offends societal standards of beauty (that have been hammered into us all over the past 100 years or so).” No one says it, but many think it, even if it’s subconscious.

    I too was struck by Ringer’s immediate denial that she’s fat. I felt that she was really sad about it all, no doubt in part due to her own eating disorders. It truly is so horribly sad that *anyone* would have to *defend* themself in that way.

    1. I absolutely agree that lot of people will give you the “it’s for your health” answer (although I don’t think anyone would say in the case of Ms. Ringer). I talk about that here: https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/there-is-no-healthy-weight/ and here https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/vfht-the-vague-future-health-threat/ but even now I’m always startled when someone thinks it’s their business.

      I also think you are right that whether they say it or not, it has to do with flying in the face of what our culture says is attractive and valuable. Thanks for the comment, I agree that it’s a terrible shame when someone has to “defend” the body that they live in 100% of the time.

  2. so much love. reminds me of when that time Nigel on SYTYCD said to a dancer of size that she would have a hard time getting a job because she was fat, and then participated in the oppression he was warning her of. judge her on her skill, not her size! if she’s got talent, don’t be one of ‘those people’ who won’t hire her or give her a chance!

    1. Thanks Tolanda! I think the dancer who you are talking about is Donyelle Jones (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1829921/) I am a huge fan of hers and I agree with you. I think that the fact that in the past we’ve wanted dancers to all conform to a body type doesn’t mean that we have to do that in the future. Any choreographer could start to change things by casting amazing dancers who don’t fit the mold. Thanks for you comment!

  3. The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter. At least it shouldn’t. I love to dance, I suck at it, but I love to, so I go to things like the ballet to watch others do so beautifully what I cannot do. It strikes me just now that never once have I looked at a dancer and thought, “Wow, s/he is just too big to do that!” My thoughts are more along the lines of, “Wow! I wish I could do that and not strain every muscle in my body and/or break every bone I have in the process!” It strikes me as odd that we as a society cannot simply enjoy something any more, we have to criticize every aspect of it. You want a large coffee with creamer? But it’ll make me fat! You want to dance? But others will make fun of me! You want to sing? But I’m just not good enough! You want to exercise because you enjoy it and it makes you feel good? But I’m not as fit as the others at the gym! You want to…well, you get the point.

    I wrote a post on facebook recently, that was actually about something else, but I think it fits here rather well as well: Regardless of what you may think of me. Regardless of what you may think of my choices in life. Regardless of if you “agree” with what I have done, am doing, and what I am going to do. Regardless of all of this, I am still a person. I am still a human. I still give love, and sometimes receive that love in return. I don’t have to have your acceptance to survive, but what I do need is for you to remember that there is a person here behind this screen and that inside this person beats a very real heart that does break. Regardless of it all…I am me.

    I’m pretty dang proud to be me, and I think that this dancer should be proud to. She is insanely talented (much like our very own Ragen!) and the writer failed to see that. I feel bad that she has gone through such a hard time with an eating disorder, and that now she finds herself the butt of a very poorly written joke.

    1. Hi Karen,

      I LOVE what you’ve said here and I think that your Facebook post is genius! I absolutely agree that as a society we have a tendency to find a reason to say not fully enjoy something without modification. I also wonder if it has something to do with the fact that we all feel like we can’t ever be the “ideal” that we keep seeing on TV, magazines, billboards etc. and so we want to point out that others aren’t living up to that expectation either as a way to feel ok about where we are? Also, thank you so much for your kind words about my dancing, I really appreciate it 🙂

  4. I love how you challenge your readers to copy the moves that the ballerina in your post did. I can barely climb a flight of stares let alone jump into the air and do the split due to the pain of calcification in one of my knees. I think a lot of people have that mindset. They see art and say “my two year old could do that” or hear music and think “I could have composed that” when really they don’t understand that they think that way because they’ve already seen someone else do it.

    I think that ballerina is very courageous. Even though she may be taking the wrong lesson out of it with insisting over and over again that she isn’t over weight; I think she deserves a pat on the back for how much class she handled the criticism. A true ballerina through and through!

    1. Thanks Jenny. I’m sorry to hear about your knee! I agree that a lot of people don’t understand what it takes to do what artists do. And I absolutely understand why she is handling the criticism the way that she is and I applaud her standing up to it!

  5. I think it was a mean thing to say, but I don’t actually blame the critic. I blame ballet. In the ballet world, what he said was honest. The thing about ballet is that more than any other discipline, you don’t just have to be super skinny- you have to be perfect in EVERY way, and every ballerina knows that. If you’re not lucky, you don’t stand a chance, and if you are lucky, you’re probably aware that most people are not. It’s not like they became ballerinas deluded that it was an accepting world. I don’t know how they do it. I was only lucky that my studio growing up was strangely accepting. I enjoy teaching ballet now so that I can encourage those dancers that I know would be rejected elsewhere (like I was). It’s a challenge to teach them things that their bodies are just not naturally meant to do in a way that is healthy. We know it’ll never get them into a big company though.

    Unfortunately, in ballet, the aesthetic is everything. Every dancer has to be a clone and has to be able to do the same choreography in exactly the same way. They have to be easily liftable, have good enough arches to be able to balance on pointe, have natural turn-out and spine flexibilty to be able to create the same lines everyone else is creating, etc. If you want to see the appalling truth, watch the documentary “Ballerinas”. I could barely sit through it.

    The question for me is “how in the world can ballet dancers have any self-respect!?”

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