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The Nutcracker and Girls' Body Image Issues

ballerina

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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