Anorexia And Ballet: The Sad Truth
Think of the words that are used to describe ballet dancers. The most common include willowy, wispy, slight, elegant, disciplined, flexible and graceful. Of course, the image that comes to mind is an extremely thin girl or young woman, someone who is lithe and thin almost beyond belief.
For young girls and young women, this demand to meet a specific body shape and image often becomes a central part of their training. Girls are told if they cannot meet the impossibly thin body type preferred they will not be able to go to prestigious ballet academies and certainly never perform at a professional level.
Keeping Thin at All Costs
There is a specific body type that is considered ideal for the ballet. Tall, thin and athletic without being muscular is the stereotype that is idolised. However, as young girls are put on highly restrictive diets, it impacts their body growth as well as their ability to complete the complex dance routines.
Many of these girls and young women are eating far less than 1000 calories per day while training intensely for hours. However, that still may not feel like enough for dancers given the extreme stress and pressure they are under to be thinner.
The result is a culture where eating disorders such as anorexia, purging, extreme exercise and starvation are used to attempt to rid the body of every calorie consumed and every ounce of body fat. And, to make the situation worse, these behaviours are often richly rewarded with the slimmer girls earning the bigger parts and opportunities that girls with a healthy BMI are not offered.
The long-term effects of anorexia, the constant purging of food after eating through extreme exercise, laxatives and vomiting, can be life-threatening. In the short term, ballet dancers lose their stamina and their ability to perform due to lack of energy for the muscles and cells of the body.
Symptoms also include hair loss, loss of menstrual cycle, digestive problems, sleep problems, anemia and, if not detected, potential loss of life. Often, even when the ballet dancers can no longer dance due to their health, they continue to be obsessed with weight gain, seeing themselves as "fat" when they are skeletally thin.
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