Body Image in Ballet

This is my Unit 1 Part D arts issue essay about body image and eating disorders in the ballet and dance community, I would love some feedback :)

Body Image in Ballet

Body Image in Ballet

The Issue

Eating disorders and negative body image are frequent amongst dancers, particularly those who study and perform ballet. Studies have shown that ballet dancers are nine times more likely to develop an eating disorder than someone who doesn't dance ballet -a staggeringly high figure. Recovery from mental health issues like anorexia and bulimia are not nearly as highly funded by the government as they should be, and focusing on why so many dancers have a negative body image would be a huge leap in solving the issue. I have chosen to research this issue as I would like to find out more about why eating disorders are common in ballet dancers and also how the problem could be helped.

Why it could be Negative

Ballet dancers can suffer greatly from eating too little; because it requires so much energy and strength, ballet should be fueled more. However, in many ballet schools, students are "regularly weighed" to make sure they stay at an "unnaturally low weight" – this causes immense pressure for most dancers and results in them not eating nearly enough. A source from BBC news also says there is an "unspoken competitiveness" between dancers which encourages many people to view their body negatively, as they are constantly comparing themselves to other ballet dancers. This issue however is rarely addressed in ballet schools as society is used to ballet dancers being extremely thin and, Channel 4 News says, "aesthetic". This means that smaller, thinner dancers are often chosen to perform bigger parts – they are seen as more 'aesthetically pleasing'. However, it massively affects many dancer's mental health to stay at this low weight and many develop eating disorders. This is extremely unhealthy and dangerous to any dancer, as the body is placed under so much physical strain it needs a lot of fuel to sustain itself. In 2015, a professional ballet dancer died as a result of doing huge amounts of physical exercise whilst having anorexia – this highlights how serious the issue can become. Many argue that more advice and support needs to be given to ballet dancers to help them sustain a healthy and substantial diet and also have much more help if they do develop a mental health problem – examples of these could be healthy eating classes and management of a good lifestyle. If this support was supplied to more dancers, fewer may struggle with eating disorders or negative body image.

Why it could be Positive

Some people argue that ballet dancers need to monitor their diet or be underweight in order to perform to their best. Former professional ballet dancers Gillian Lynn and Beryl Grey spoke to the Guardian and stated that you "can't be pushed enough" in ballet, and it is part of the "professional discipline". Dance is a difficult profession and only the very best are successful, so you could argue that only those who really push themselves will do well. Grey also said that dancers "have to diet" and be "underweight" to be at their best. This is coming from a professional dancer, so her experience may prove that dieting helps ballet dancers to be better and more skillful. Being slimmer does help to complete occasional movements so could be an advantage in auditions and performance and, in addition, society does accept slimmer dancers more, so audiences could receive a thinner dancer better.

My Opinion

I believe that ballet dancers should be given much more support in the prevention and recovery of eating disorders and negative body image. Although most dancers are slim, nobody should have to eat tiny amounts just to get a job in a performance, or exercise a huge amount in order to look a certain way. Mental health problems are an issue for everyone and dancers aren't an exception. Grace, co-ordination, expression and style are qualities that can be achieved by people of all sizes and therefore it is horrific that ballet dancers are pressured so massively to be thin. 'Thin' isn't healthy, and the fact that dancers are way more likely to develop eating disorders should be addressed with a serious attitude that 'healthy' is eating and exercise to sufficiently sustain the body. More support could easily be given to many dancers, especially developing students, to help them keep a positive mindset of their body and of the way to be healthy. With the influence of large dance schools and more funding for mental health problems in the NHS from the government this issue could be drastically reduced, which would positively affect the lives of many people in the professional and non-professional dance communities.


" = BBC News

" = Channel 4 News

" = The Guardian


Amber Burston

Amber Burston

This author has no bio :(


  • Luke Taylor

    On 11 May 2017, 11:25 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    Fantastic issue you've raised here. Body image is such an issue for young people in general - feeling like they need to look/act a certain way in order to fit in, rather than for their own well-being.

    For those of you reading this, it isn't worth it. Do what makes you happy, not what makes other people happy.

  • Sally Trivett

    On 13 July 2017, 13:11 Sally Trivett Voice Team commented:

    What an interesting issue to look into, particularly about what the former professional dancers you cited said about low weights in ballet. The point I picked up on primarily however, is the one you raised about ballet being a sport, dancers needing to fuelled, let us not forget that a calorie is essential a unit of energy anyway. You might find looking at the Minnesota Starvation Experiment useful, it showed that once calorific intake is cut and weight is reduced that symptoms of an eating disorder naturally present in once sound of mind and body individuals - . The Beat website has some excellent statistics on eating disorders too including funding and perception - . Fantastic piece, would be lovely to see more of your Arts Award work!

  • Ysabelle Taylor

    On 27 July 2020, 22:52 Ysabelle Taylor commented:

    Hi Amber, I just came across your article on a random internet search and wanted to say how sad I am too see that these problems of body image still persist. Dance technique advances, inclusivity advances, but apparently ballet dancers are still subjected to demands of perceived image perfection. To any young dancers struggling with this issue, please get nutritional advice and keep healthy. I was a professional ballet dancer and struggled with weight issues. My long term health suffered unnecessarily.

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