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Jennifer Ringer Responds to Dance Critic: I'm Not Fat

jenifer ringer, natalie portman

Ballerina says "I'm not overweight."

Jennifer Ringer, this year’s Sugar Plum Fairy in the New York City Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” said she didn’t want an apology from The New York Times critic who called her fat.

Instead, she wanted her company’s diverse range of bodies to be appreciated for what they are — the artistic tools of trained, skilled and athletic dancers.

Ringer went on the Today Show this morning to talk about the firestorm that Alastair Macaulay caused when he wrote that this year’s Sugar Plum Fairy looked as if she had eaten one sugar plum too many.

She told Ann Curry that her first reaction to the comment was that it hurt.

Read on to watch a clip of Ringer on Today.

The two also talked about the new movie “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman. Despite her naturally tiny size, Portman lost 20 pounds for the ballerina role.

Curry asks Ringer to do the impossible on Today, which is to defend the fact that eating disorders and ballet are closely connected — and not just in our minds. Ringer, a 37-year-old mother of two, battled anorexia and bulimia for years after joining the NYC Ballet at 16. But she wouldn’t fault ballet culture for her disease. “It was my inability to cope,” she tells Curry.

She even echoes some of Macaulay’s defense in saying that ballerinas are body first. “As a dancer, I do put myself out there. My body is my art form.” But then she says what you can’t help but see. “At the same time, I’m not overweight.”

Ringer is careful not to criticize the NYT critic, which could be how she handles conflict or could be part of the profession, I don’t know. She’s also careful not to criticize her ballet company and acknowledge adult pressures on her as a girl to be and stay thin. But that’s not her job, right now.

But as parents of young girls, I do think it’s ours. It’s not unusual for young girls who aren’t in big city ballet companies to be talked about like dancing pieces of meat — with some fat to trim. Or maybe they’re gymnasts or swimmers or cheerleaders or stage actors. It’s not unusual for girls to hear “one sugar plum too many” comments from other mothers and older girls, even their friends. And I think we need to say more to these girls than “that comes with the territory.” Young girls should be free to try dance, for example, without fear of being hounded about what’s hanging out of the leotard.

Tolerance for extreme thinness and derogatory comments about size don’t have to be a part of the dance world. Ringer shows us the former is possible. It would be nice if our girls can be part of an art world where the latter is possible, too.

Video: Hulu via HuffPo

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