“Fat” Ballerinas and the Role of Body Image in the Dance World

In the article written by ballerina Elice McKinley and the keywords essay “Body” by Kelly Hager, both emphasize the negative portrayals of being fat in our society.  Hager writes how culture favors the “hyper-thin European ideal of beauty” and literature portrays thin characters as powerful and responsible while heavy characters are seen as passive and powerless.  Our society has created negative body images in the minds of much our young adult population where they think they only have value if they are thin.  


This mindset is also strongly prevalent in the dance world.  Even though dancers, specifically ballerinas, are thin to begin with, they still are a victim of negative body image.  McKinley writes how in her off season she, as well as her other dance friends, feel “gross and fat” during their off season.  This is a time where they aren’t in rehearsal for six hours everyday and are able to consume more foods they actually enjoy.  With this comes a slight gain in weight which for them can be majorly upsetting.  Mckinley explains how the strict diet she has followed may make her outward appearance be favorable but in reality, it is destroying her body.  She explains how even though she is 29, her body feels like she is 90.  Her diet led to a serious injury which four years later still causes her pain and problems.  


McKinley further explains how body image is a more serious issue among dancers than many people realize.  Being a competitive dancer myself for ten years I can atest to this.  When you are forced to stare at yourself in a mirror for twenty hours a week, you compare your body to your peers and start to see flaws in yourself that aren’t actually there.  Many dancers suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) where they are persistently preoccupied by a slight, or even nonexistent, flaw of their body.  For many dancers, this involves believing they are heavier than they actually are.  This can lead to further problems such as eating disorders when they desire to lose weight which they perceive will make themselves in some way better.  McKinely states how she’s able to relate to this situation and is something she has seen many of her fellow dancers fight to overcome.


Our society has a created an image of what the perfect body is and many young adults, especially dancers, fight to achieve.  The mindset of many is that thin is perfect and desirable.  This leads to numerous consequences.  Negative body image will continue to be a problem and is only escalated by our society.  




6 thoughts on ““Fat” Ballerinas and the Role of Body Image in the Dance World”

  1. I really liked how you connected your personal life to this article. I always kind of knew that ballerina dancers had to be thin, but I never knew to the extent until now. I think social media plays a huge role in BDD, because people are able to write whatever they want to, usually without any consequences. I also never thought about how dancers have to constantly stare at themselves in the mirror, which naturally causes people to compare themselves to others.

  2. This was really interesting! I have seen this in many aspects of my life where people see the articles and pictures of people that are the “perfect” body type and the viewer then believes that there is something wrong with their own bodies because they are not like the one that they see. Society gives people images on how people are “supposed” to look like and I think this can be very damaging, especially for a young child too.

  3. Being a ballet dancer myself, I was told many times during my childhood that I too needed to lose weight to be a better ballerina. I knew that I wasn’t overweight or that I had a problem during the off season, but there was always this idea that a beautiful ballerina would be tall, skinny, and with long legs. Along with other female stereotypes, we see this enforced when we go to see our favorite ballets at the theater and think, “Wow, I want to look like that someday”. Personally, I think it starts at the beginning, with who we surround ourselves with. If we are around this type of negativity during our childhood, it will persist throughout the years and to others around us.

  4. Hi Megan,

    I really enjoyed reading your post, and I think that this is a topic that is really important to talk about. I recently learned in my Abnormal Psych class that eating disorders are extremely more prevalent for girls than boys, and that eating disorders especially prevalent in sports such as dance. The body image that women are expected to uphold is unrealistic, and often impossible. I think that in the field of dance that the responsibility should be taken to make sure that girls do not feel extra pressure to be unhealthily thin, and to support a healthy body weight.

  5. You bring up such valid points of the emphasis on body image in our society. I believe the media plays a large role in portraying the ideal body. Many of the models and actors who are in the media are not healthy themselves, or they are digitally altered. This creates an unrealistic and unattainable goal for young girls. I would love to see a shift in our culture, so that women (and men) would start to love their bodies. We are all made so differently, and not everyone can obtain the body that is portrayed in the media. As far as dance goes, I also was a dancer growing up. I know that some girls in my classes also felt the pressure of comparing their bodies to others’. I wonder if it would be better if dance instructors allowed the girls to wear flowy and loose fitted clothing. This way, not every curve on your body would be emphasized.

  6. This reminded me of an article about a 15 year old girl that was deemed a “plus-size” ballerina. She talked about breaking the body stigmas that surround ballerinas much like you talked about above. I think its really important to start seeing more body diversity in ballet and to break away from the negative health risks that often accompany the idealized ballet body.

Leave a Reply