ballerina vs fat

I am watching a documentary about ballerinas.

It’s a hard life. A nineteen-year-old with dramatic cheekbones flits across the screen, all swift, clean lines and blade thin limbs. She practices all day long, every day, to be here, preparing to dance the lead in Swan Lake. She doesn’t smile, even afterwards, in an interview with the filmmaker. She is intensely disciplined and she looks so fragile, so cold, that I want someone to wrap her in a quilt.

Like so many little girls, before we learn to be more original and that our necks aren’t nearly long enough, I wanted to be a ballerina.

“But why?” Bear asks me, when I tell him.

I don’t know. I think it had something to do with the outfits. I think it had something to do with the fact that dolls are often ballerina dolls, and people always give you ballet themed things as a little girl. As a little girl, I liked lots of things– especially trains, whales, and ballet. So at least I kept it diverse. And I knew, I always knew, that I was the worst in my ballet class. Utterly unflexible, bigger than everyone else, with perpetually snarled hair and stick-out underwear.

(these girls would probably have refused to talk to me in class. Or be seen with me after. source)

But I choose the ballet documentary because there is still something there. Look how incredibly slender and graceful they are! I want, watching them, to immediately stop eating. To never eat carbs again. For a moment, it seems more important to be that slender than to be anything else. This is the human body pared down to its essentials. Every movement is a work of art, vivid, exposed, exact. They are so beautiful. Everything they wear looks good, even tutus. 

There is no way I could rock a tutu.

I have learned that being incredibly thin makes things look better on you. Your body can’t detract or distract from the cloth. The clothing gets to give the impression, and you are simply the backdrop, the blank canvas. There is something so simple about this.

Sometimes I wonder what I might find sexy if I had never seen a model or a ballerina or heard people describing the thinnest women as perfect. Sometimes I wonder what sexiness even means. What beauty means. What it’s made of.

(I just googled “beauty” and on the first page that came up there were lots of pictures of young blond women with airbrushed faces, and also this picture, which I think was just linked to because he’s in a film about a beautiful woman. But still, his was the only image that caught my eye, and it seems fair to put him here source)

Probably too many things to explain easily.

I have these contradictory, conflicting reactions and ideas. I think that if I lose weight, that would be better. That my thick arms are shameful, like a failure that has been branded on my skin. A tattoo of failure. I notice other shameful details. My knees are somehow heavier than they once were. They look sloppy to me now, clumsy, bulky and extraneous. Who has heavy knees? Am I even allowed to?

And at the same time, there is something unavoidably sexy about fat. About plumpness. There is something sensual and basic and inescapable about it. Something faintly delicious. And I catch myself appreciating it without meaning to.

In the documentary, the ballerinas are described as ethereal more than once. They are superstars in their native Russia. They are unattainable beauties. They are otherworldly. But in the historical images, the ballerinas often have shorter limbs and necks. I even spot one with arms that remind me a little of my own. I wonder if tastes always grow more extreme over time. I wonder why we want beautiful women to look so very different from other women. Why it seems so important to select for the exceedingly rare. Why rare means thinner and thinner.

(she’s obviously thin, but she looks nothing like the dancers in the documentary. source)

Bear wanders in. “Still watching this thing?” he grumbles. Then stands, captivated for a minute, as another stunning Russian ballerina winds in tight, expert turns across the stage, her wrists like glass stems, her fingers poised and feathery.

“She is so thin,” he says wonderingly. “How can she keep dancing? Isn’t she weak?”

I don’t understand it really, so I pause the documentary and leap up. “I’m a ballet dancer!” I say, in my silly voice, doing ridiculous drunken spins and leg kicks. He laughs and offers to lift me. We are at the edge of the kitchen, being absurd, I’m pointing my toes and flapping my arms like a deranged swan. I hike up my dress so that I can swing my legs up. They don’t go very high. Not even close to very high.

And as I careen by the mirror, limbs flailing, I see that I am somehow sexy in this moment. I am complicated by the weight on my body. I am not a pared down, simple version of womanhood. I am not a clean white canvas. I am messy. I don’t even know how to dance. I don’t really know how to be sexy, whatever that means.

But I know sometimes, maybe briefly, that I am sexy anyway. That there is something demanding about the way I look. It doesn’t spell out your reaction to you. You might not know how to feel immediately. I don’t know how to feel immediately, looking at myself.

Bear thinks I am a hot ballerina.

I think I am a hot ballerina.

There is nothing etherial about me. And as I dance my galumphing, clumsy, slightly obscene dance across the apartment, I realize two things:

1. I like myself better this way

2. I am not going to watch the rest of the documentary, just in case.

*  *  *

Did you ever want to be a ballerina?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a really short dress. It highlights my plump thighs.

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Kate on July 24th 2012 in beauty, body, weight

61 Responses to “ballerina vs fat”

  1. NB responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    You are awesome.

    Thank you for this.

  2. Kate responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Thank you for this! What an awesome first comment.
    I’m always a little nervous when I publish a post, and you made me feel like I did the right thing.

  3. Sam responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    I was the worst in my ballet class too. There is something completely amazing about that.

    You rock.

  4. Melanie responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I never wanted to be a ballerina, but I was watching a reality show based on ballet this season. They are thin because they dance all day every day. They eat really healthily. If you worked out 8 hours a day and ate healthily your bones would stick out too. Also, you can’t lift a lady who weighs 180 high in to the air. It’s a necessity for the job they chose, so I don’t judge it. I think ballet is lovely. I would NEVER want to do something that took that much discipline. It’s not a life that would make me happy. But it makes them happy, and that’s all that matters.

    I like being curvy. That being said, I am currently losing weight to show solidarity to my boyfriend who recently lost 90 pounds and is trying to lose 40 more. I am pretty happy about losing a few pounds, but I don’t really care if in a few months I decide to give it up.

  5. Samantha Angela responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I think we do gradually push farther to the extreme. Models, ballet dancers, even athletes don’t look the same way they used to 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. It’s in our nature to keep striving to be better. At one time that ballerina whose image you posted must have looked beautiful and graceful on stage but then a thinner ballerina who could point her toes further and plie deeper took her place…and on it goes.

  6. Kate responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    @Samantha Angela
    OK, interesting. I like getting your insight on this.

  7. Mikayla responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Loved reading this! I also, especially enjoyed the afro’d fellow. It’s interesting how the “unique” stands out and becomes note worthy in sea of “beautiful” faces. Something to keep in mind! Treasure that individuality!

  8. Also Kate responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    I wanted to be a ballerina… secretly still do. I studied ballet for 8 years as a child/teen. I am, however, definitively NOT built for it (am built for rugby and martial arts… broad shoulders, big muscles, nothing particularly delicate or graceful about me. Plus, my turn-out is bad and I’m slightly pigeon-toed.) What I love about ballet is the human body as an art form. I love many kinds of dance, but ballet is so precise and demanding, and breathtaking when done well.

    Instead of watching documentaries about stick-thin Russian ballerinas (who are usually subjected to rigid weight requirements, even today), you should Google for video or photos of Michaela DePrince, an up-and-coming dancer recently featured in the documentary First Position. She’s strong, not at all waiflike, and also a beautiful and successful ballerina. I agree with Melanie that most ballet dancers actually need to eat a normal amount of food to be able to maintain their rehearsal schedules. While ballerinas do have to maintain a very lean body in order to dance, the ones who are force themselves to be stick-thin often end up sick or weak. I want to see dancers who are strong and skilled… to me, that’s the perfect backdrop for bodies-as-art.

    Still wish I had that ballet body type, though. I keep meaning to sign myself up for an adult dance class (maybe jazz? lyrical?) but I have yet to find the courage. Yoga classes with a lot of flowing arms and movements are lovely, but they leave me nostalgic and wanting more.

  9. craftosaurus responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    The ballet body type, to me, is not appealing. More power to ya if that’s what you look like and that’s what you want to look like, but I personally prefer to be curvy. I’m not saying I feel fantastic about the way I look every second of every day, but overall I’m happy with my shape and wouldn’t trade with a ballerina, gymnast, distance runner, etc.

    It must be sort of fun to have a body that can DO those things, though!

  10. Bethany responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Man, I’m so glad I found this blog. Sometimes you take the words right out of my mouth!

    I’ve been pursuing “thin” for so long I’ve forgotten why. It’s only with a recent 10 pound weight gain that I’ve even asked myself. Is it really better that way? Who says? What’s wrong with what I have? These are questions we should ask ourselves! And we’re allowed to like ourselves the way we are! Giving myself permission to accept myself has given me such huge relief.

    Also? You noted that being incredibly thin makes everything look good on you…and I would mostly agree. But? I like myself much better naked now that I am a little heavier. There are curves, there is substance, there is me! Yaaay for all of this ME!

  11. Iris responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    I have that “oh man if I was really thin I would look so ethereal and awesome” thought from time to time. Not with ballet, exactly (never really wanted to be a ballerina as a child. I wanted to be a witch.), but just little things – like when I’m traveling and wandering along with my colourful bags, or sitting cross-legged reading a book, or just walking down the street. I’ll catch myself trying to work out what I look like from the outside and thinking that if I was thin I’d probably look interesting/artistic/mysterious or something, but chubby-me can’t pull it off. I think maybe I should get “shut up, you’re awesome” tattooed on my palm.

  12. Paige responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    I used to be a ballerina… and I was always the tallest, most awkward one in class. I eventually dropped out of ballet because I hated standing out so much (and I am only 5’5″..not a monster like I thought I was!) It’s sad because I really loved to dance, and looking back, I think I had a lot of potential.

    In December, I was under 100 pounds and I was very proud of myself for it. Then, I gained 20 (healthy) pounds since then. I don’t like how clothes look on me anymore, but maybe it’s because all of my jeans are size 24.

    I am so glad that I found your blog, because I need it as a celebration of a real woman’s body, which I have now. You are beautiful!

  13. andrea @ my kinda perfect responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    i took ballet for 10 years growing up. one of my good friend’s mom was the owner/instructor and there was a big group of our friends that danced. i found the necessary commitment to ballet overbearing, so in 8th grade, i quit. several people went on and danced through high school, and some are taking classes here and there as adults.

    but my friend (the one who’s mom owned the place) is still in it. since she was so heavily influenced growing up, she grew to really love it and it’s an ever-existent part of her life. she now choreographs productions for her mom’s company and it’s truly magical and inspiring to watch.

    you know what’s more inspiring? watching my friend dance. she has a two year old daughter, who also loves to dance (adorable and carefree, by the way)…and since her daughter’s birth, my friend has been working on losing the baby weight. still, two years later, she’s working at it. but you know what? seeing her, a true woman, dance, is so beautiful. forget if there’s 10 or 20 or even 50 extra pounds. forget if she thinks there’s an extra bulge in her leotard. she just dances because she loves it…and she’s so good at it. her movements are fluid and lovely…and watching her body dance around compared to the stick-thin 16 year olds…

    i’ll watch a real woman dance any day. that is true beauty.

  14. Caroline responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    ok, a – you rock a bald head, why the eff can’t you rock a tutu? i do and i look AWESOME in it. tutus are so ridiculously shaped that as long as it fits in the waist, doesn’t matter what the rest of you is shaped like, a tutu is a tutu.

    and b – yeah, i wanted to be a ballerina too, til my dance teacher called me out in front of the class cause i couldn’t touch my toes to the back of my head. I CAN NOW but who’s counting?

  15. SolariC responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    I actually took ballet classes from age 4 to 9, so I totally shared your wish to be a professional ballerina when I grew up. Much like you, though, I didn’t grow up to have the customary physical shape for a ballerina.

    However, in defense of extremely thin dancers, I think a lot of their physical severity is determined by the fact that their partners have to lift them. I’m pretty sure that as it originated and developed, ballet didn’t feature so many lifts during pas de deux, and such. Now, however, since they are inevitable in choreography, the woman almost HAVE to be extra slim to ensure that their partners can hoist them safely into the air.

    On the other hand, dance and the pleasure it gives us are something everybody should experience, no matter what their body shape. I love the fact that I can still move like a ballerina if I want, even though I don’t look like somebody from a professional troupe. I’m glad that you discovered the joy of dancing with Bear in your home, and that you kindly shared it with us.

  16. Kristen responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    For a long time I was a very serious ballerina. I started taking ballet lessons when I was 4 years old, went en pointe when I was 9, and was asked to be part of my ballet school’s performing company when I was 13. I dedicated a huge part of myself and my life to ballet, and when I was 16, I was seriously considering becoming a professional ballerina. I stopped dancing ballet after I graduated high school and moved on to college. I do miss ballet terribly, and it often brings back very raw memories when I see a professional ballet performance, but I do not regret my decision to enter the world of academia. Ballet was a very significant part of my identity.

    However, I will say this much regarding ballet and body image, having lived in that world until 18….

    I guess you can also say that I had the “ballerina body.” But my “ballerina body” was the result of eating very healthily and working out many, many, many hours a week (and some family genetics I guess). Ballerinas are willowy and angular not because they starve themselves, but because of the physical demands of the art. One cannot be weak and starving, because then one would never last through classes, rehearsals, etc. But I think it’s not very accurate to say that a skinny ballerina is not what one would call a “real woman” (or is not as “real” of a woman) because she does not have curves or breasts.

  17. Rosanne responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    I took ballet classes for about 8 years when I was growing up, but I don’t recall ever wanting to actually become a ballerina… I always stood out because I was taller than everyone else and even then realised that my body looked far from what a ballerina’s should look like, so I suppose I just never even considered nurturing the idea :) (Although I also remember an older student at the school who had curvy hips and who got lots of solos, and I loved watching her dance.) Mostly, I loved ballet for learning new steps and moving around to all kinds of wonderful music, I think. And that’s still a great part of why I love it today. The combination of the movements and the music is often so beautiful and powerful, and the control that these dancers possess over their muscles.. Pfff… I can get seriously awestruck! Having said that, my inner ballet girl still comes out every once in a while, but I would never want to trade my curvy body for that of a thin ballerina. Dancing is awesome though!

  18. Rachel responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    In the past couple years I’ve ended up being friends with a couple of Lincoln Center Ballet Dancers, and want to know a secret? When they’re not in dancing mode, you’d never know a lot of them are dancers. They just look like normal, if thin, people. Some of them even seem really awkward when not performing; I know one guy is the most intensely beautiful dancer I’ve ever seen on stage, but in person he’s downright awkward. And apparently for years he was so socially awkward that he barely ever spoke to a single person in public. The perfection is an illusion- even the most beautiful, graceful people can still be pretty awkward at times.

  19. Mariko responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I just made a similar post about this on my blog, the part about what we would con sider beautiful if we didn’t have models or ballerinas around rings true to me. To me, I feel as if the “unsexy things” are often the sexiest things, because they are sort of novelties, and special on each of our bodies. But I think feeling healthy and fit is sexiest. I like to be skinny (it varies from time to time) because I feel like I could run a few hundred miles and that’s pretty insane. Crazy, but it’s how I feel!

  20. Kate responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Hmm. Good thought. I didn’t think about how the art form itself might have changed over the years.
    And @Kristen also interesting info! I do think it probably varies, though…Like Rachel, from two comments up, I’ve known some professional ballet dancers (at Lincoln center! Funny!), and one of them lost her job because she gained weight. She also exercised constantly (I don’t think you can help but exercise constantly as a dancer, dance is exercise!). I think that she had been eating very, very restrictively and when she ate more healthily, she gained weight. And I do know there are plenty of eating disorders in the dance world. So I think it probably depends on the person. But when you’re in an environment where it is essential that you are very very thin, people probably go to extremes to get there. And those extremes can’t possibly all be healthy.

  21. Kate responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    I felt sexy when I was skinny, in part because I fit into a standard about what a sexy body looks like. I feel sexy now for different reasons, ones that surprise me, but probably shouldn’t. We get told over and over that fat is gross and bad. But there’s a part of my brain that rebels against this.

  22. Sarah responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    When my anorexia was the worst it ever was, I had some freakish, fetishistic obsession with ballerinas. The oddest thing is that my obsession didn’t stem from envy or jealousy of their stick-like bodies. It was something much more complicated and psychological. I sort of assigned to all ballerinas everywhere with this weird psychology. I felt dizzy all the time, like I’d just done pirouette after pirouette, like I was just some figure on a state, feigning grace and structure for a critical and nonexistent crowd. And I wanted to be like that.

    Now, I can’t watch them without feeling sad.

  23. Kate responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    Fascinating. I get why ballerinas have this strange allure. Even though I have absolutely no desire to be one now, and don’t even think that’s a body type I’m drawn to, there is something captivating there. Something about so much strength combined with so much fragility. And something about that fierce, constant poise.

  24. Ginger responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    that’s why I’m a tap dancer. I started in ballet but definitely do not have the body, or the flexibility for it. When I figured that out I turned to tap. Best decision I ever made. Tap is so solid, so full, and it doesn’t discriminate. Any size or shape can learn, and fly. And as someone who can be painfully shy, it’s one place I don’t hold back. You can’t hide in tap shoes.

    I like that me better too, than the starving I did to try and stay ballerina sized. Great post.

  25. Claire Allison responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I think I wanted to be a ballerina when I was a kid because my older sister did it. As it turned out I realized ballet was a lot about discipline, which I had none of, and teachers weren’t very nice because they were so obsessed with discipline. As someone who works backstage as an adult, I can say that having worked with a lot of dancers they are absolutely normal in person. Chain-smokers like you wouldn’t believe, but normal.

  26. Lynellekw responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    I studied with a ballerina! She gave up dancing at the age of 28 – she said she was getting too old to dance and wanted to train in something else before she was too old to do anything except teach dancing. She was a dancer in a German troupe for 10 years, and met her husband there.

    That’s the end of that story.

  27. Mindy responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    When I was about 6 I took a small series of ballet classes one summer. When we were doing the butterfly stretch (seated, bottoms of the feet together, knees out and preferably close to the floor) the teacher would push my knees down in frustration. I wasn’t flexible enough for her… and I guess I wasn’t flexible enough to be a ballerina. I still remember the pain of her trying to force my stiff little body into something it didn’t want to do, and I still remember thinking that I could never be a ballerina because of it. So yes, I did want to be a ballerina, but never thought I could after that. :) I loved your post! Great insights.

  28. Rapunzel responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    In first grade had a black ballerina outfit (complete with a tutu), with glitter mixed into it somehow. It was all black and glittery–so pretty! So…mysterious. Not your typical pink or white ballerina outfit. I can’t remember the details, but I’m working off of a memory of a photo of it (where the heck is that photo?). I had a Dorthy Hamill haircut (this was like 1990) and one of those cheap black eye masks every kid gets at Halloween parties. In the photo I’m doing the typical ballerina stance with my arms curved upwards, while my twin sister snarles next to me with her clawed fingers, face painted green, and bright red 80′s pointy-toed-boot-like shoes (she was a wicked witch and the shoes were my mom’s).

    That’s the only memory I have of ever wanting to be a ballerina.
    I think now, if I ever had the desire to be a ballerina, it would only be because ballerinas are inherently thin. I wouldn’t actually want to be a ballerina, I’d just want to be thin. So silly.

    I love your sexyness musings. “I don’t really know how to be sexy, whatever that means.” Me neither! But my hubby seems to know (or he *thinks* he knows) what “sexy” means, and he thinks I’m sexy. It’s unnerving and relieving at the same time to know someone finds me sexy. Weird?

  29. Sheryl responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    I definitely wanted to be a ballerina when I was little. I cried when we moved and I couldn’t take ballet classes anymore. :(

    For me it was more about wanting to be so breathtakingly amazing at something so physically grounded, and then later about wanting an art that I could completely lose myself in. Later I found some of those things through other avenues, such as playing the viola.

  30. Blake responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    I love this blog. I think I watched the same documentary (since I’m a documentary fan) and swore not to eat carbs for a month after….

    But then I remembers that I take up space. That I’m not a size zero and I’m grateful because if I were I might not have the non-size zero personality that I have.

    Unfortunately just like Van Gogh’s cats we still fetishize ballerinas and I’m so glad women like you are strong and heartfelt and honest and you are breaking the chain.

    I’m hoping to start a podcast soon for Project Enough and I would love to interview you for it.


  31. San D responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    @Ginger…I always wanted to be a tap dancer. Even pushed bottle caps into my shoe soles once for the sound. But alas, I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time…so dance on any level never happened. I thought that tap dancers looked full of joy and ballerinas looked tortured. Then I imagined my feet shoved into toe shoes, and balancing on point as compared to the jazz improvisation of dancing jazz feet and picked tap as the “fantasy”. The Nicolas Brothers and Savion Glover were my idea of dance artists.

  32. Haley Y responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    I danced for 11 years seriously (through high school), then sporadically since then. I don’t think I’m over the fact that I’ll never be a ballerina… hearing Nutcracker music gives me awful nostalgia pains. I don’t have the body or the talent, although I am relatively skinny – there are honestly so many more requirements for ballet beyond just being thin. At this point the thing I admire most in dancers is the control they have over their body. It seems like you could ask them to do anything – okay, now make this shape with your body – and they could do it! The flexibility and strength of pro dancers is so amazing to me.

  33. Bridget responded on 24 Jul 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    Kate, Great post in so many ways.
    I never had dance lessons, but always wanted to be a ballerina. I did some dancing in high school and even considered majoring in dance. But my mom said ballet dancers lived unhappy lives. For one, they couldn’t eat, which ranks high in my mom’s book of fun things to do in life. :)

    As for curves being sexy, what about Rubens’ voluptuous nudes? I think they were the standard for sexy in that time period.

    Sadly, I do feel I look better thinner than not. Definitely a result of group think.

    As for your hot dancing — you go girl!

  34. contrary kiwi responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 1:41 am #

    “I have learned that being incredibly thin makes things look better on you. Your body can’t detract or distract from the cloth. The clothing gets to give the impression, and you are simply the backdrop, the blank canvas. There is something so simple about this.”

    No way! Those who create clothes should be grateful that we allow them to be seen on our beautiful bodies. Clothing should decorate, change, emphasise our bodies as we want it to. The human form – whether fat or thin, able or disabled, in whatever colour and whatever possible format – is such a beautiful thing that it cannot and should not be forced into becoming a coat hanger for clothing. Part of the reason I enjoy having a shaved head is because I get such unadulterated joy from showing off my face to the world. I need to not have hair because it might stop people seeing how gorgeous I am.

    I have no special interest in ballet, but anything that involves using and exploring our bodies excites me.

  35. Emily Merkle responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Kate, this made me smile. Hotness is in the eye of the beholder *and* in the mind of the beholden; baby you’ve got it.

  36. Lindsay responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 6:50 am #

    I never wanted to be a ballerina, but once I was extremely and unnaturally thin. Oddly enough the thinner I got the worse I thought I looked in clothing. I think it had to do with the scrutiny about my dramatic weight loss. I wanted so badly to be skinny, but once I met my “goal” I was ashamed by my preying mantis appearance.

    I am 15 lbs heavier, and although there are days when I feel like a chubby blob, I would never want to be that thin again.

  37. Judy responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 8:47 am #

    I did modern dance from 1st grade until the end of high school. There isn’t nearly the same pressure for thinness as in ballet, but I was always acutely aware that I was not delicate enough. My collarbones do not stand out in shadow. My thighs will always touch.
    In college, I found swing dancing, where my womanly hips are a blessing, not a curse. Somewhere along the line, this white chick learned how to shake what her momma gave her, and it is celibrated in the world of lindy hop. From what I have found, it is a place of self-expression for people of all body types. Social dancing is a conversation.
    I highly recommend swing to anyone looking to get in touch with their body again- especially former dancers.

  38. Gracey responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 9:55 am #

    “I highly recommend swing to anyone looking to get in touch with their body again- especially former dancers.”

    Seconded! I was actually recommended dancing to help with some mental health problems, took up swing and have never looked back. I found it so great because it relies a lot on feel to follow your partner, rather than visual cues. One of my problems was with right and left brain connection- I often had no idea of where my body is in space, and dancing has helped a lot.

  39. Cat responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Even though I took a few ballet classes as a kid (mostly because my best friend and her mom also did ballet) and I’ve always been pretty flexible, I don’t remember ever wanting to be a ballerina.

    When I was 18, I learned bellydancing from my then-best friend. To this day I consider that one of the BEST things I could ever have done for my body image and general ideas of female beauty. I saw lots of bellydancing by women of ALL shapes and sizes (including many performers), and they were ALL beautiful and special and unique as they danced. Skinny dancers often looked particularly good when they did all sorts of snakey arm movements, whereas curvy/fat dancers often could do the most delightful shimmies (that looked completely effortless on top of that – cue the jealousy on my part!).

    Ever since that time my body ideal for myself (and others, women as well as men) included a certain degree of belly, and I once deliberately tried to gain back weight after I noticed that my belly had gone and I was weirdly flat in that area.
    In other words, I never wanted to look like a ballerina, and I still prefer people who look strong and as if they like being in their bodies (which covers a wide range of actual sizes, many of which are a bigger than I am, and it doesn’t take into account that I tend to find movement and attitude a lot more relevant in my assessment of anyone’s beauty than “measureable,” photographable looks). So if I had to pick any beauty ideal from the world of dance, it would have to be bellydancers.

    I still have bad-body days every now and then (I then tell myself some really awful things about the size of my butt), but interestingly they are nearly always about the way certain clothes look on my body, and very rarely about my body as such. I have come to believe that many, many clothes just aren’t designed for women with wider hips, so they never look “right” on us. But that’s a CLOTHES problem, not a BODY problem.
    I also very much agree with contrarykiwi that “Clothing should decorate, change, emphasise our bodies as we want it to.” Come to think of it, I never even thought that my body was something to display clothes on. Instead, I always considered clothes something to decorate my body with… Interesting!

    At any rate, I recently discovered your blog and it has done wonders for recovering from a series of bad-body days I had and it helped me think about a lot of stuff related to beauty, sexiness, and my body. So thank you very much for writing what you write, the way you write it! I also enjoy the way you illustrate most of your entries (and I seriously dig your nose!). This is my first comment, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

  40. Emily responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I am a frequenter reader of your blog, and I enjoy every single post – thank you! As a 30 year old American girl/woman who has lived in the Middle East for almost 5 years, I think a lot more about my notions of beauty now than I ever did when I was in the States. I think it’s because in the US I was an average, blonde girl who looked just about like every other average, blonde girl. When I moved here, I suddenly realized what it felt to be a minority – pretty humbling actually. I am usually the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed person in just about any circumstance – in a doctors office, at work, at the movie theatre, in a shop. What I admire about this part of the world is that it has allowed me to embrace (instead of despise) the extra weight I’ve gained since moving here (too much good food!) because in general, women are appreciated for being voluptuous, and most of the tv personalities, celebrities, etc are womanly looking. No super-skinny trends here as far as I can tell, which is an incredible relief. I’m grateful for the new perspective and I hope I can carry it with me anywhere.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful posts :)

  41. Alii responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I have this adorable black tutu that I love to wear with some of my shorter dresses. Two years ago, though, I would have thought you joking if you would have said I would wear a tutu around town. The costumes were all I really wanted from ballerinas, so I was lucky I had a crafty mother willing to fabricate all sorts of random nonsense for me and my sister. I vote buying a tutu and incorporating it into your wardrobe. Mine’s adorable under a black dress with ruffles on the collar. :3

    My sister, though, she is a dancer. Through high school she did point and everything. She is also six feet tall and can use the tops of doors to steady herself when she’s en pointe. My sister was /the dancer/ and I was /the actress/ and we both stayed away from each other’s realms of expertise so we wouldn’t be compared; I have always viewed dancing and ballet and being That Skinny with this weird wariness of something I shouldn’t do because that is my sister’s Thing and I wanted to avoid competition. So- yeah. Being thin counted in my unspoken noncompete clause with her. I don’t even understand that one. I’ve never been too bothered that I wasn’t thinner simply because that was what my sister did. (love of dance + undiagnosed health issue == very thin sister)

    I also have the coordination of a baby elephant. My friends find it endearing as long as I don’t break their stuff. :D I did, however, once find a type of dance that suited me down to my toes: Bharatnatyam. The simple unit that I did in ‘Dance and Culture’ class in college had me down in an earth-grounded stance and I felt like I could do /anything/. It was amazing.

  42. Soohyun responded on 25 Jul 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Practiced for about a half year when I was young but quit because I had a terrible teacher. My cousin wanted to pursue her career as a ballerina but ended up giving up because she was very sick at that time. Even though she always mentions that she would have done the same if she could go back, I think she still misses the chance of being in her tutu and practiced for hours at the studio.

  43. Abby responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 12:30 am #

    I have to admit, I’ve always had the same strange fascination with dancers too, specifically ballet dancers and modern/contemporary dancers. For me, I don’t think it’s about the body type as much as it is about the grace, the flow of movement…something that I have never had, partially because of my body type but partially because I’m just not graceful.

    Sometimes I dance around though, in the kitchen or the grocery store, like I imagine a ballerina would. Maybe I’m too old to “play pretend,” and maybe I get some strange looks from my family–and the people at the grocery store–but for that moment, I feel graceful. I feel like I’m borrowing a little bit of that flowing movement (especially in my wide-leg jeans, I don’t know what it is about them but they make my legs seem so much more graceful), even if it’s just for a second. And those seconds might be silly, but they are also incredibly important to me for reasons that I can’t figure out. It makes me happy, so I’ll keep dancing.

  44. Rachel SV responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Kate, thank you for this post. I think I wanted to be a ballerina when I was younger, but more than that, I wanted to fit in in ballet class. I remember feeling that the teacher saw that and encouraged me to try to find a way to be thinner. I felt that she didn’t cast me in roles that were more prominent because of how I looked – that I didn’t fit. My mother, too, tried to help me understand that I would never have a ballerina’s body, so it probably was not a great plan to want to grow up and be a ballerina. She did, though, try to expose me to dance groups that had women members who were all different sizes. I, too, loved the costumes and the dance skirts and tutus. I hated that my tummy stuck out, though.

    I want to thank you for talking about this and thinking about your feelings regarding the ballerina image and sharing them with us.

  45. Rebekah responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    For Heaven’s Sake, Woman!! I’m not sure about this incessant objectification of your body that you have going on. However, I will say that the ballerina body type we see today (extra thin) was a George Balanchine thing. Watch the documentary, Ballets Russes. You’ll see all sorts of body types and the interviews are great. Maybe you can begin to see past the body of the dancer to the art, which is the point.

  46. Kristina responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    I got kicked out of ballet at 5 yrs old because I couldn’t “oogy boogy”! It’s a running joke in the family. I actually didn’t get kicked out but chose to stop going because it was so damn boring. But really! Who can’t oogy boogy!?!? This girl (me) right here!! Kate, I also have nice juicy thighs and rather short legs and I can pull off a mini skirt or short dress like no other.

  47. Kristina responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    I don’t know about you chicks but I think Kate can see the art in ballet just fine.

  48. Kate responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    @Kristina and Rebekah
    lol! I love the art of ballet! So thanks for that, Kristina.
    But Rebekah, I’m writing about body image here, so I’m often talking about bodies. And I really don’t like it when people comment here “WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS??” or something along those lines. I’m here to talk about body image. So that’s what I’m doing. If you grab coffee with me sometime, we’ll talk about other things, I promise.
    But even if I think about my body more than you think is a good idea, that has everything to do with how I learned about beauty from the world. And if you got past it somehow, I’m happy for you! But telling me that I am being extreme or ridiculous is beside the point. I’m not so weird, really, I’m just writing it down.

  49. sami responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    I love looking at women who have curvy thighs and wear shorts skirts. Especially with flats. I think it’s a nice combination of cute and sexy. When I was young I played a lot of sport and had those great muscly thighs that I find so amazing but was such a tomboy… skirts horrified me! Haha! And now I am too jiggly for anything above the knee. So I try not to be creepy and I just admire all you adorable women in skirts and dream of the day when I can be one too! Well, as soon as I stop assuming that wishing will make it so. I am quite lazy so it’s all talk no action with me :)

  50. Kate responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Forgot to respond to this earlier: you totally called me out!
    OK, I’m going to do it. I’m going to rock a tutu. Or at least a ballet themed outfit. Stay tuned for bald woman in tutu! :p

  51. Kate responded on 26 Jul 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Since I am now going to wear a tutu even though i have no hair and definitely don’t have a ballet body, I dare you to wear something short and sexy!
    Also, I am constantly checking out women. I feel creepy about it, too, but women are beautiful, and they’re always wearing interesting things! I can’t help it!

  52. sami responded on 27 Jul 2012 at 4:23 am #

    @Kate a dare! Oh gosh. I don’t think I even OWN anything short and sexy! Also it’s winter here and too cold for anything other than leg-coverings of some sort. So maybe I can just practice my display legs around the house for now…

    Glad it’s not just me! In my head I am yelling “I am not a pervert! I am just admiring her! It is not a sexual thing!” and hopefully people will telepathically know that.

  53. Friday Fun Day — 7/27 « ohdizzle responded on 27 Jul 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    [...] A beautiful personal essay about ballet, bodies, fat and sexiness. [...]

  54. Katie B responded on 27 Jul 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    I’m 32, and just signed up for my first ballet class. I could not be more excited to be the worst in the class!

  55. Anna responded on 02 Aug 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    I don’t know if you’ll see this, but could you tell me the name of the documentary?

    Being a ballet fan I’d never actually thought about their weight, more about how strong they have to be to jump up so far and move so quickly; but looking back to the days I was a ballet dancer I remember how envied I was for being tall and thin. I guess I was so young I didn’t see it.

  56. Kate responded on 03 Aug 2012 at 10:55 am #

    It’s just called “Ballerina.” I saw it on Netflix.

  57. Eat the Damn Cake » checking out other women responded on 05 Aug 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    [...] the quick smile which is like, “You look cool!” and there’s the measuring look leveled at the hot pink tutu skirt she’s managing to rock that says, “I’m interested in how you’re pulling this off. Very [...]

  58. Eat the Damn Cake » my skinny friend and the women who judge her responded on 26 Aug 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    [...] think about all of that very much these days, because it’s been years since I was really skinny. It’s been years since someone said those words. “You’re so skinny!” with the squeaky exclamation point. And for the most part, I can’t say [...]

  59. Eat the Damn Cake » introverted woman in a tutu dress responded on 24 Sep 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    [...] I sometimes think, because I am a girl. Woman. Some combination of those. I am currently wearing a pink tutu dress, but my face looks very [...]

  60. jessica responded on 05 Feb 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Thank you for this.

  61. Dana responded on 05 May 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I’m actually a ballerina, and I agree with this article! :) ever since I’ve joined I lost a lot of weight not purposely, but being a dancer is really hard and tiring. But also to be a dancer you have to have some muscle and bulk, so ballerinas that are stick thin kinda amaze me. My thighs have giant muscle and that helps but I guess their muscle is lean.