Monday, December 6, 2010
Anorexia Among Dancers: A Beautiful Tragedy
Recently, ballet dancers and the emphasis on being thin has been brought to the forefront in the UK with the Video Pledge to Stamp Out Ballet Eating Disorders, issued by Tamara Rojo, new artistic director of the English Ballet. But, as the video also states, changing the mindset of young dancers is easier said than done.
Eating disorders affect thousands of people throughout the world. A select group, young female ballet dancers, are molded into thinking that the only way to succeed with their dream is to be thin. Why is there such a high incidence of anorexia nervosa in ballet dancers? A look at some of the causes of anorexia gives an indication of why ballet dancers are at high risk of getting this disease. It also applies to many figure skaters and gymnasts, who are often under pressure from coaches and judges who tend to favor a thin body.
One reason for becoming anorexic is the need to obtain perfection. A perfectionist desires excellence in all aspects of her life. She will stay up all night to make sure her closet is in order alphabetically or iron all of her clothes once a week to make sure they do not become creased. A perfectionist will scrub her nails each morning to make sure they shine. She will stop eating to fit her opinion of the ideal, impeccable person. A perfectionist seeks flawlessness and when she finds that flawlessness is not met she will do something to make it ideal. If an obsessive person thinks to be perfect is to be thin, then she will diet. A perfectionist also likes to be better than her equal. If she sees someone with a waist an inch smaller, her waist must be two inches smaller. She must be better than all others.
Anorexics usually desire control over their lives. They feel they have a lack of control in their lives and the only thing that they control is what they put in their bodies. Their teachers control their marks and their parents control what they do, wear or the time they must arrive home at night. Their friends control where they go and that leaves one thing left in life to control: their diet. A person desiring control feels that her life is out of control and she is falling out of control. They feel that they have no life, no meaning and they feel that nothing is theirs. The one thing they find that is theirs is their body. They can control their body, put what they want into it or put nothing at all.
Anorexics also shows signs that they feel incompetent. When a person feels that she is no good at anything and find she has the control not to eat for extended periods of time, she find she is good at something. If a person who gets poor grades in school, is told by her parents that she will never do anything worthwhile, is told by her siblings that she is stupid, it hurts the person and makes her feel incompetent. When they start to lose weight and people around them say they look good or that they are finally doing a good job at dieting, the person is inclined to please even more. "If people like me like this, wait until they see me a few pounds lighter. Then wait until I am even lighter than that."
Causes Due to outside Pressure:
With many pressures on a ballet dancer, the greatest pressure is on being lean. This pressure is what drives a dancer to be anorexic. A ballerina has many pressures on her but the pressure to be thin comes before all others. The pressures of media are the first pressures that a young girl will notice when developing into a young woman. She will be looking through a catalogue looking for new clothes and see that all of the models have beautiful, little figures. She will see pretty girls with no acne or noticeable birth marks. She will get the impression that the pictures are how people should look when they become older. As a young dancer gets older she will see pictures of the best dancers in the world. They are characterized with narrow hips, little or no fat deposits, slim middle, small breasts, delicate looking arms and their height is short. A young dancer who views this feels that unless she shares these characteristics she will never be the girl in the picture. The media pressure girls to be perfect. They do not display people who are anything but the ideal and this can have a lasting effect on young girls.
Dance teachers also pressure their young students to be like their slender heroines. In classes they are told to hold up their stomachs, making them look thin from a side view. Once during class, Kristi, a girl who was interviewed, was told by her dance teacher not to eat before class because it made her look fat. This put her off eating because she went to over seven classes a week, this left no time to eat. The girls look up to their dance teacher, whom as their mentor has the control to forecast the girls' outcome of eating patterns. If she makes it an important issue to be thin in order to be a good dancer, then the girls are more likely to become anorexic and lose the weight to satisfy their teachers expectations. If the teacher does not pressure the girls to be thin, they have a better chance of not falling into the cycle of anorexia.
Pressures put onto a girl from her parents are hard to deal with. If a girl entering adolescence still has some baby fat on her, she may not realize that the fat on her will be used wisely by her body to fully mature into womanhood. This lack of knowledge may deter her, and think that she has to get rid of this extra fat that she has. If parents tell their children that they are fat and need to lose the weight the children listen. As far as they are concerned their parents are always right and would never tell them something that did not need to be done. Parents who allow their daughters to feel fat because of something they may have said are just as much to blame for the development of the disease as the daughters. This is because the daughters have always looked up to their parents. Then, if their parents start to find fault with their daughters and their figures the daughters will immediately respond by loosing weight immediately.
The Ballet Physique:
A ballet dancer is very aware of what her body looks like. At each practice she attends she wears skin-tight clothes and dances strenuously in front of large mirrors. A dancer has to look at herself for many hours in a day and this can cause a realization in the dancer. The general public may look in the mirror for a few minutes a day, hardly aware of what they really look like, but a dancer has no choice but to stand in front of a mirror and compare herself with others in the room. Seeing others thinner than she, could prompt a dancer to lose a few pounds to look as small as the other dancers in the room. As each one does this the room of dancers becomes very small. Anorexia seems like the best way to become the smallest dancer in the class.
Another reason dancers would want to be small is that they have to jump high, spin fast and balance on their toes for extended periods of time. If a dancer weighs much or her weight changes frequently these steps are difficult to execute. A dancer has to know her body weight and be able to balance with no exterior problems. Extra weight changes the balance of the body. It takes more strength to get up in the air, more time to do the move, and it's harder to land. A dancer also has to be conscious that a man has to be able to carry her for extended lifts and holds. Knowing she can dance better with a smaller weight convinces a dancer that she must stay thin at all costs.
A dancer is usually seeking perfection in the steps that she executes. If she does not she will never reach a professionals level. Because many dancer are perfectionists, they feel the need has to be flawless. All dancers know that to get into a dance company of choice they have to look like the other girls in the ballet world so that when they get on stage they all look the same. The dancers know this and before applying for a dance company make sure that their bodies conform to the ideals of the dance company. Although not all dancers or schools place as much emphasis on being thin as in the past, this self-destructive ideal still exists and, sadly, is ruining many young lives.
12 WARNING SIGNS OF ANOREXIA
How can you tell the difference between normal weight loss and an eating disorder? If you are concerned about a student or colleague, here are some warning signs.
1. Dance becomes lethargic and shows a loss of athletic power. Has a hard time retaining stamina through long combinations.
2. Has trouble concentrating and/or memorizing phrases.
3. Starts wearing baggier clothes to hide body
4. Constantly chews gum or drinks coffee and diet sodas (if this is a dramatic change).
5. Gets light-headed or dizzy while dancing.
6. A once outgoing dancer might attempt to hide in the crowd or move to the edges of the studio to draw less attention to herself.
7. Depression and becoming withdrawn.
A documentary made by David Kinsella shows the pressures faced by a young ballet student in Russia, which can be read about here: A Beautiful Tragedy