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February 27, 2014

Take Back the Tutu

Eating Disorder Awareness Week is in full swing. There are many community and awareness events occurring this week. We were thrilled when Saint Paul City Ballet agreed to share their inspirational and courageous views of body image, and the idea that each and every person’s body is different. It’s important to embrace the body we have and take care of it. Our body is our body. It helps us do the activities we enjoy and to move about our days. For these dancers, their bodies give them the ability to perform their art – ballet. And they vow to “Take Back the Tutu.”

Joanna: Being a dancer, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my body. I have compared myself to others, stared in the mirror for way too long, and wondered what I needed to do to have a more “ballet-esque” figure. The journey towards a more positive body image has not always been an easy one but it has been important and rewarding. As this is the only body I possess to express myself through dance, I have learned to embrace it. I realized that since my body gives me a great deal of joy on account of what it can do, it only made sense to honor it with acceptance and even love. It also eventually occurred to me that if my Creator placed in me a desire to dance and gave me the body that I have, then this body was just fine. I did not need a form that was taller, skinnier, more proportionate, etc, in order to dance. I just needed what I was given. And so the muscles I once thought were too large and bulky I now view as symbols of strength and agility.

Nicole: Over the years, as I became more serious with my ballet training, I also became more critical. I was constantly noticing the parts of myself that I didn’t think fit the ballerina body type description. It’s hard spending so much time in front of a mirror, being able to see every detail about yourself at just a glance. I began to think and feel I looked too bulky and wasn’t happy. I knew muscle was what I was gaining, but I didn’t feel thin and long like I wanted to look. I wasted so much time nit-picking the bad in myself, I never acknowledged what I did do well, and why I was able to do it. At my first summer intensive, I was asked to do grande allegro in the last group with the boys one day. When I realized I was jumping higher than half of them, realization seemed to wash over me. I was strong. Not skinny and bony, but strong, and muscular. I no longer secretly envied the tiny twig-like girls in the back of the room, but instead became proud of myself. Finally realizing that being healthy and fit was more important made me grow as a person and a dancer. I became more open-minded and accepting of myself and why I could do the things I did. Instead of hating my body, I learned to appreciate it.

Jarod: Food is Life. Call me cliché but this statement is what I live by. Growing up on a farm, dinner was the one thing that could put all work to a stop. Food was always a necessity, not a desire. Without food, there would be no life, (obviously). Taking the statement ‘food is life’ directly, food is the fuel needed in us to continue a day’s work. Work can be as strenuous as dancing for 8 hours, running a marathon, or even as simple as a walk in the park or playing with your children. Taking ‘food is life’ indirectly can be as easy as gathering around a dinner table with your family and friends. Yes, we eat at dinner, but it is the food that brings us together to enjoy life with the ones we love. Denying yourself food is denying yourself of having a full life, and a full tummy!

Zoé: Three Words: Long. Lean. Beautiful. Growing up in a ballet school, these were the three words I used to describe the physique of a professional ballerina. While standing at the barre in ballet class every day I would make a checklist for myself as I observed my own body in the mirror: make thighs smaller, waist thinner, and legs longer. I thought that if these changes were made in my own body, then I would maybe have a chance at becoming a professional ballerina like the ones I saw in all of the movies and magazines.

As I grew into my body and my dance career, I came to realize that my checklist was quite unattainable within my anatomy. At first, I pushed away this realization, insisting that if I just changed this or that in my exercise routine that my body would become long, lean, and beautiful.

I then began to understand that the ways in which my body deviated from the qualities I had prescribed to ‘the ballerina’ in fact made my dancing unique. My strong legs made my jumps powerful and my ability to move swiftly fluid. Furthermore, I began to notice different qualities in every ballerina. These differences are what make watching and performing dance infinitely interesting. If you asked me today what three words describe a ballerina, I would only be able to tell you one: beautiful.

Brittany: I have always been curvy. I find myself noticing this distinction all the time in regular classes and rehearsals. When I was younger it really took a toll on me. I was losing my love for being in the studio because there was such negativity that came when I walked into the room and felt that I was not going to succeed based on my comparison with others. But as I made my way through college and beyond, I began to realize – it’s not fair to my artistic growth to focus solely on my looks. I stuck it out in dance – even got my Bachelor’s in dance for a reason: it brings me joy to move and to tell stories through movement. Often dance says more than words could ever say. I have come to realize that a beautiful dancer starts inside. The audience will respond more to generosity of movement than to skin and bones without something more to share behind it. I have come to value the smart, intellectual dancer in me. Finding this peace will always be a journey, and a lot of days I fail to see past the physical qualities that bother me. But if I give up on myself and let those thoughts overtake me, then I’m letting down the generous dancer inside me. At the end of the day what I care about as an artist is sharing my passion for movement and communicating through dance.

Thank you to the Saint Paul City Ballet for sharing these statements with us—it takes courage to share personal thoughts.

Body image is something that everyone struggles with at some time or another. As individuals, we need to be nicer to ourselves. Start by saying something positive about yourself or what you’re grateful your body helps you accomplish. Each of us has the power to change our thoughts; to change conversations around negative body image (also known as ‘fat talk’). Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend, with kindness and support. As Brené Brown states, Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.

All photos by ©Caroline Yang. To see Saint Paul City Ballet images daily, visit

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