Eating disorders in the ballet world have always been an ongoing issue; however, it seems that in the twenty-first century, eating disorders in ballerinas are increasing due to representations of body image in the media. Specific statistics for eating disorders in ballet are very unclear, but “The Health and Care Information Centre published figures in February 2014 showed an 8% rise in the number of inpatient hospital admissions in the 12 months previous to October 2013” (Beat, 2016). Ballet is a tough industry; basic uniform includes a leotard and tights, your entire body is on show twenty-four-seven, you’re surrounded by mirrors and teachers who are judging every part of your body to ensure you maintain your lines and posture. Those who are involved in ballet are elite athletes, they push themselves mentally and physically to become the perfect candidate for a high-end ballet school.
There are many eating disorders that ballet dancers have the potential to suffer from. However, anorexia nervosa is one that can stop their career and can lead to serious health problems in the future, even increasing the risk of death. Children as young as six have been known to suffer with anorexia, but most cases occur during adolescence (Beat, 2016).
The media plays an immense role in anorexia because the ‘ideal’ body image, presented both in magazines and on the catwalk, is still unrealistic. The representations of models and celebrities on social media sites have received negative comments from those who see them. The popular social media site Tumblr used to be a forum for ‘pro-ana’ hints and tips, also known as ‘thinspiration’. However, in 2012 they banned all pro-eating disorder and self-harm blogs. Tumblr explained on their company blog ‘joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not’ (Zafar, 2012). Although Tumblr have prohibited these types of profiles, it does not stop other people using different social media sites, such as WordPress.
Even though L states in the heading of her blog “I do not encourage harmful behavior in any way” (Theproanalifestyleforever, 2015), her writing is very influential and could affect anyone who reads it. The type of content that is accessible by anyone of any age is shocking.
The Royal Ballet School recently introduced a nutrition policy to all staff and students and advises on what to do if they suspect someone has an eating disorder. There are very strict rules regarding eating at the school which must be followed in order to keep their place or scholarship at the school. They state in the introduction that due to the nature of the athlete ‘appearance is part of their performance’ and that ‘dancers are at greater risk of developing eating disorders and associated medical problems than the general population’ (RBS, 2012). The policy also outlines that healthy nutrition is made part of compulsory education at The Royal Ballet School throughout a student’s studies. One thing that struck me about the policy is that ‘all concerns must be listened to seriously’ (ibid), because, as a ballet dancer, or indeed any athlete, you have a specific diet that is prone to change, so it can be particularly difficult to notice an eating disorder in this profession. For this reason, careful procedures must be in place. The policy highlights symptoms that can be observed and some that may be more difficult to notice, such as ‘excessive exercising inside and outside the scheduled classes’ (ibid); however, his particular symptom could just be a means of perfecting their technique or working on any other fitness agendas. The Royal Ballet School states that if a student has suffered significant weight loss ‘they cannot participate until weight restoration has occurred’ (ibid), meaning they would be restricting their own career as a ballet dancer. They go on to conclude a student’s livelihood at the school ‘may be at risk if their body is becoming unsuitable for classical ballet’ (ibid). Therefore, getting an eating disorder in the dance industry could potentially destroy their chance of continuing a career in this field, and consequently adds another source of competitiveness to the industry.
There has always been a lack of education on eating disorders. From personal experience, my schooling never touched on the subject and it was seen as taboo. As a dancer myself, and a previous ballet dancer, I am aware of the danger of eating disorders due to education at dance school. This covers those suffering with eating disorders and how to help if they suspect someone else is. However, some dance schools and academic schools avoid the subject altogether. On the other hand, eating disorders in the dance world are changing; there are more policies and regulations on the health and nutrition of a dancer, particularly ballet dancers. I do still think that the industry needs to work harder to ensure social media is with them rather than against them, because anyone can have access to thinspiration and pro-ana materials that can be harmful to anyone, mentally and physically, if they were to see it.
Watch out for Emma’s upcoming articles on body image, eating disorders in men, and body image in children!
Beat – The UK’s Eating Disorder Charity
Phone: 0345 634 7650
Text: 07786 20 18 20
National Centre for Eating Disorders
Phone: 0845 838 2040
Phone: 01482 718130
Walk-in / Urgent Care Clinic:
Care UK, Level C,
Royal South Hants Hospital,
Eating disorder statistics – beat (no date) Available at: https://www.b-eat.co.uk/about-beat/media-centre/information-and-statistics-about-eating-disorders (Accessed: 7 February 2016).
Nutrition Policy (2012) Available at: http://www.royalballetschool.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Nutrition-Policy.pdf (Accessed: 7 February 2016).
Zafar, A. (2012) Tumblr bans pro-eating disorder and other self-harm Blogs. Available at: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/02/24/tumblr-bans-pro-eating-disorder-and-other-self-harm-blogs/ (Accessed: 7 February 2016).
theproanalifestyleforever (2015) The Pro-Ana lifestyle forever. Available at: https://theproanalifestyleforever.wordpress.com/ (Accessed: 7 February 2016).