Should Body image stereotypes matter within Performing Arts?

This is my unit 1 part D Arts Issue. I focused on body image stereotypes throughout the performing arts industry, this includes dance, drama and modelling, and how these reflect on upcoming generations. Also looking into the different weight and height restrictions there are throughout company's and auditions and why this is the case.

Should Body image stereotypes matter within Performing Arts?

In my arts issue, I have chosen to consider why there are body image stereotypes and should they matter throughout the performing arts industry, this includes particularly dance and drama. I am interested in this topic, because in my opinion everyone should feel comfortable when stepping into a dance class for example, and should not feel as though they do not have enough experience. I shall be explaining and looking further into the different stereotypes that there are today, between both males and females in the performing arts industry.

I shall be starting off this arts issue by firstly saying that body size nowadays mainly determines if you get a job, this is because a certain shaped body is 'expected' for certain dance styles. Fitness is also seen to be important and certain body shapes/types do not give the correct aesthetic. 'Shorter actors are also by and large easier to shoot, there are also a number of stars who are uncomfortable working with actors who are significantly taller for fear of appearing too short'. Brian Hennessey stated in an interview. Fair enough it's harder to frame taller actors, but I'm sure if someone has the talent then their physical appearance should not limit them to opportunities within the industry. However, the industry unfortunately does not work like that, company's look for certain people with the correct body shape and height to suit their overall outlook of the company and overall 'ease' of working.

'You're tall, you should become a model'

This is a sentence tall people hear quite often, especially as I am tall too, through my own experience I have heard this sentence being said to me plenty of times, coming from parents, friends, teachers and even random people on the streets. Why do people always presume that taller, slim and slender people should become models, when there are smaller people out there who are pretty and should have an equal chance of becoming one too? The requirements to become a model are 5 ft 9 to over 6 ft, why can't it be for anyone, why are there set stereotypes for models to be tall? This is the same for actors, they are mostly small due to taller people being out of frame and harder to shoot, but why can't they change the frame rather than changing and missing out on someone's talent. I also created a short 5-minute survey to back up this subject, focusing mainly on height and weight and do these factors determine career success. 24 out of the 33 people that responded said that body size doesn't matter in this industry and that it should be based on talent, however 9 people said it does. Even though I feel as though body size should not come into it, if a dance teacher was oversized for example, then that would not make me feel as motivated compared to a slimmer teacher. However this isn't the case all of the time, because when asking one of my dance teachers, she explained to me that she had a more 'rounded' dance teacher, so first impressions she was a little shocked due to her 'size' and being a dance teacher. But, once getting to know her she said she had the ability to lift anyone due to her strength and her flexibility was out of this world. Therefore, do not judge someone by first impressions. So, in some cases yes size does matter, but not all the time. In an article by 'Shane Snow, Content Marketing', it reads 'being tall does not provide an advantage like it does in basketball, primarily because height can be made relative by the camera'. However, my audience feels differently when I asked them this question 'Do you think being tall provides an advantage within the performing arts industry? Like it does in basketball?' 11 of them answered yes compared to the 22 who said no. I feel as though it does not provide much of an advantage because everyone is the same no matter their height. Just because someone is tall, does not mean they can do a lift or act better than someone who is much smaller. Their height can be relative to their strength. If someone loves what they are doing then they should let weight or height restrictions get in the way. Being tall myself I have exceeded this barrier; I do not let it get in my way if someone tells me I cannot do something because 'I'm tall' I don't listen because why should something like that get in the way of something I love doing?

Especially if children start performing arts at a younger age, then they are put under pressure, by social media especially. The media expects dancers to have a specific look. For example it is mostly advertised everywhere to see skinny ballerinas and similar looking girls. Dancers have to look a certain way if they want to be placed in the industry. It is the same for boys, they must look muscular and strong and that males are mostly the lifters when it comes to contact work. If you go to watch and show a see males lifting women you would think this is normal and the males are seen as strong, whereas on the other hand if you saw females lifting males then you would be quite surprised as you don't usually see this happen due to the different stereotypes. This is also shown through images showing that males are the stronger dancers, female dancers may feel uncomfortable and uneasy when viewing these images, as they know that they are capable of lifting bodies too. This puts children under pressure as the need to look a certain weight and height and they want to look like other dancers. In my opinion, if you are 'big' then dance is a type of exercise where you can have fun and lose weight at the same time, I have danced since a younger age and it has made me believe in myself because I had a lack of confidence due to being tall and being different compared to everyone else. Now I have stopped that bothering me because it should not, I am the same as everyone else. In my opinion, if you are starting out dance for the first time, most people would probably feel a little intimidated by its professional image. If you go to watch professional dance company's perform in shows for example, all dancers have bodies that span across the board of size, age and colour. Starting dance is a wonderful thing, you never know until you do it, you are dancing for the pleasure of it, so why be concerned about what you see on stage? And what you must look like? Just get in there and dance without any worries, because your body shape will not stay the same forever, training bodies will change. Throughout the performing arts industry, weight and body types are particular in dance, whereas height is mainly focused on in drama, because actors and actresses have to look a specific height to fit in the frame. In my survey, I asked the following question, 'Can you think of any stereotypes within the dance industry regarding how a dancer 'should' or 'shouldn't' look? This could be for any genre or style of dance. Please explain your answer below'. The average answers I gathered included, dancers are expected to 'look skinny, small and petite excluding larger, taller or 'chunkier' girls and boys'. In addition, a dancer should not be curvy, male dancers should not be overly feminine (e.g. doing ballet) and the general stereotype of women being petite and light and only ever performing ballet. However, the people who answered may have not seen a variety of shows throughout the performing arts so just stated the stereotypes that they know, including a skinny ballerina and based on the genre.

Today, the stereotypes are a lot less because the industry is becoming so popular and there is so much talent around I feel people are becoming a lot more optimistic, and are not letting stereotypes decide what they can and cannot do.If you line up all of the female and male choreographer's in today's world, then you will see that there are a lot more male choreographers than female, for example Matthew Bourne. This is because males are often considered more creative and are taken much more seriously than females, so they get to perform and teach people their work, where as if females were to do this then they are not taken as seriously and males would. I think this makes females less confident and it makes it harder for the new female generations who are coming up in the future, because they look up to the female choreographer in front of them as their role models, so if people don't believe in them then that puts the new generation feeling a lot less behind. In my opinion, males and females have equal chances in becoming a choreographer and should not let stereotype's get in their way because they are all capable of the same thing if they try, no matter what their height, weight or gender. Why should it be like this if people have the talent to create and reach their goals and dreams. Nowadays ballet and contemporary are major influences of the different stereotypes in society.For example, when people think of a 'ballet dancer', they always presume they are 'skinny', thin and flexible. However, now that is not the case, just because a dancer is bigger does not mean they are not capable of doing ballet too. Because of this stereotype, bigger more muscular ballet dancers feel uneasy and feel like they cannot take up dancing because of this. A quote by Steve Paxton, the creator of contact improvisation when doing my research for this topic read,

'I invented contact improvisation for an open ended exploration of the kinaesthetic possibilities of body's moving through contact. Sometimes wild and athletic, sometimes quiet and meditative, it is a form open to all bodies and enquiring minds. Contact improvisation shows trust between two bodies, the same sex genders or different. Both can do as much as each other no matter their restriction'.

This backs up by issue, because Steve created improvisation to show males and females are the same no matter the gender or how strong they are. The improvised dance form that Steve created, is based on the communication between females and females moving bodies, that are in physical contact and their combined relationship creates their motion, gravity and momentum. Practice includes rolling, falling, being upside down, following a physical point of contact, supporting and giving weight to a partner.

In addition to the above, I believe that body stereotypes do not matter in the performing arts industry. You should not be afraid to start something new just because you are worried about your height or weight. If you have the talent then go for it, do not let that stop you. You will meet new people along the way who probably feel exactly the same way that you do, and you will start to believe in yourself more. Stereotypes will always be there and you will not be able to change them, but what you can do is believe in yourself and go out there and reach your goals no matter what gets in the way. When I was gathering research both primary and secondary, I came across many different opinions and information, but at the end of the day no one else's opinion matters. Do what you feel and if you want to become a model, actor or dancer then go for it, you can change the stereotypes for the future, and they will become more accessible for younger generations.


Chloe Lawrence

Chloe Lawrence

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  • Kayla Mills

    On 6 July 2017, 10:06 Kayla Mills commented:

    This is a very well written article Chloe with lots of research to back up your points! I agree that body stereotypes do not matter within the industry as it's about how passionate and talented you are within your subject area!

  • Hollie Jenkins

    On 6 July 2017, 10:08 Hollie Jenkins commented:

    I believe that it should not matter what you look like in the Performing Arts Industry, as long as you have passion, determination and perseverance you can achieve anything!

  • Luke Taylor

    On 6 July 2017, 10:35 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    We are bombarded with 'pretty' dancers. It would be nice to see some diversity within the performing arts.

  • Emma Del'Nero Williams

    On 11 July 2017, 13:47 Emma Del'Nero Williams commented:

    I agree Chloe, there should be more diversity in body types in dance. Great article. You make some great points.

  • Jake Wood

    On 11 July 2017, 14:26 Jake Wood commented:

    I like how you discussed the pressure that younger artists are put under particularly. there should definitely be more body diversity in dance, excellently structured.

  • Lucy Beacon

    On 11 July 2017, 14:30 Lucy Beacon commented:

    I agree with you Chloe, there are many stereotypes with body image/types in the performing arts industry but people should do what they love to do no matter what!

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