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The Nutcracker and Girls' Body Image Issues

By paulabernstein |


Nutcracker Ballet

I’m so excited to be taking my daughters to see The New York City Ballet perform “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” tonight at Lincoln Center.

Though we’re Jewish, it was a family tradition for my mother to take me to see the ballet every Christmas season. Tonight’s performance is even more special since one of my daughter Jesse’s friends will be performing. We’re hoping that if we’re lucky, we’ll get to go backstage after the show.

Reading The New York Times review of the premiere performance on Friday night, however, I was disturbed that the critic Alastair Macaulay pointed out one dancer’s weight. “Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many,” wrote Macaulay.

Don’t ballet dancers have enough body image issues as it is? Is it really necessary to poke fun of a woman’s body in such a snarky way?

“While it’s the reviewer’s job to critique the dancer’s performance, commenting on their debatable weight gain just seems cruel,” writes Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel.

Hartman points out that it’s especially troubling since Ringer recently revealed that she struggled with anorexia and compulsive eating. She had to leave the New York City Ballet in 1997 after gaining weight. After taking time off from dancing, she eventually recovered and returned to dancing with the support of her husband and former dance partner James Fayette.

Fayette convinced Ringer to costar in a performance of The Nutcracker with him in upstate New York. “At the time I was about forty pounds overweight, and I said to him, ‘I’m huge, and you’re not going to want to do this with me.’ And he said, ‘No, I really want to do this with you.’” She finally agreed.

“It was a miracle that they could find a tutu that fit me!” the dancer told Working Woman magazine. “That was the first time I had been onstage since I quit. I made peace with myself, and I know it’s corny, but I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You know, I’m beautiful.’” Only then, when she began to accept her body whatever size it was did she regain her love of dancing.

Given the physical demands of dancing and performing, it’s not surprising that Ringer, the 37-year-old mother of a 2-year-old daughter, is one of only three moms among the 50 New York City Ballet ballerinas.

At some point after tonight’s performance, I plan to remind my daughters that ballerinas are athletes who need strong bodies. I might even point out Ringer as an example that you can be a mother and a dancer. And I’ll be sure to clap extra enthusiastically when she takes her bow since I know it wasn’t easy for her to return to the stage.

photo: flickr/sammydavisdog (photo not of Jenifer Ringer)

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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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0 thoughts on “The Nutcracker and Girls' Body Image Issues

  1. Larissa says:

    I love ballet, but when it came time for my daughter to add an activity to her life, I’m pleased we were able to direct her interest to martial arts. I have no desire to explain the damage to my life & psyche that dancing in skin tight leotards with wall to wall mirrors did, but it was substantial. I wasn’t even a pro. I wish I were closer to NYC so that I could come clap for Ms. Ringer as well. What she has done for herself is a marvel.

  2. ann05 says:

    Thank goodness for this dancer and big huge boos to the reviewer and his narrow minded notions of who can dance. Dancers need to be strong and healthy and athletes. Skinniness is not the most they should aspire too. It’s a new age Macaulay. Join us, or risk looking as out of touch as Croce talking about “Still/Here.”

  3. Linda, the original one says:

    If you click on the link to the youtUbe video, she doesn’t look overweight in the least. What an asshole thing to write!

  4. Marj says:

    I love ballet. Well, watching it. I find it very sad that these amazing artists and athletes are encouraged to have eating disorders. I would love to see the pressure to be saber thin off these people, both male and female. Ballet is requires a lot of strength and if anything, they should be muscular and healthy sized. I know some will say lifts would be more difficult…well, not if everyone were strong and healthy. The pressure on male ballet dancers is almost as intense as on the females.

  5. May says:

    She’s beautiful and he’s an ass.

  6. says:

    You have to love how gracefully she handled the dig too. I probably would have cried in bed for a day or two with a dozen bagels and the Oxygen channel. She didn’t even want an apology.

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