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True or False: All Dancers Have Eating Disorders


“I’m a dancer.” “Well today, in rehearsal…” “Sorry, I can’t, I have dance.”

In any short conversation with me, you’re bound to hear at least one of those phrases. I’ve been dancing since I was three years old, and I’m still pursuing the dream I had as a little girl to dance professionally. I’m a modern dancer, which is why I was excited to hear that on this season of MADE, MTV will be making Laura Crow into a modern dancer! This is how MTV describes the episode:

Laura Crow is a hardworking perfectionist struggling with body issues as well as her relationship with her father. Now she’s ready to move past her problems and express how she really feels by being MADE into a Modern Dancer.

Uh oh. There we go: body issues. Eating disorders seem to have become an integral part of our culture’s idea of what it means to be a dancer. In just about every Hollywood movie about dancers, at least one of them has an eating disorder. The most recent example of this is Black Swan, in which Natalie Portman’s character is bulimic. Not to mention the fact that both Portman and Mila Kunis ran around for months talking about how skinny they got for their roles.

The truth is that in order to be a great dancer, you have to be healthy. Dance is incredibly demanding, and professional dancers have long, strenuous days. Plus, it takes a lot of muscle to defy gravity. But because a dancer’s body is his or her instrument, there can be a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Which means that some dancers do suffer from serious body issues. Luckily for me, I was never pressured to lose weight or conform to warped body ideals. But I know that not all dancers are trained in such a positive environment.

However, because the stereotype of the anorexic dancer is so widespread, I often feel that a lot of the pressure for dancers to be overly skinny comes from outside of the dance community. I can’t tell you how often people go on and on with surprise when they see me eat dessert, or even just a full meal. People actually ask me if I’m allowed to do that. I never felt pressure from my dance teachers to eat less, but I certainly feel weird when everyone at a table stares at me while I eat. This attitude hurts dancers who do have body issues, too. Treating eating disorders in such a casual way, as a given thing for dancers, makes it difficult for those who are suffering to come to terms with their problem and get the help they need. Which is why it makes me sad to see MTV tie dancing and disordered eating together once again.

Now, it seems that Laura Crow’s eating disorder is a pre-existing condition, not one that was brought on by dancing. Which means that she’s taking a very brave step in choosing to become a dancer. As I said, when you’re a dancer, there is a lot of scrutiny placed on what you do with your body. For someone who has serious body issues, that could be incredibly difficult.

I can’t help but wonder – is MTV just using this girl for the ratings? In this sneak peek of the episode we see Laura in a dressing room with someone else. Maybe a friend or her MADE coach? She’s trying on a tight leotard and booty shorts. The camera pans up and down her body as she stares at herself in the mirror and talks about how she wishes she could see her hip bones and ribs.

The clip upsets me for several reasons. First, you don’t have to wear clothes like that to dance in. It looks to me like they’ve purposely put a girl who is recovering from an eating disorder in tight clothes that will make her self-conscious. Second, the person in the dressing room with her keeps saying that she “has to accept” that she “isn’t meant to be” really thin. That may be true, but that’s not the kind of thing you say to someone with an eating disorder. The whole problem is that someone with an eating disorder can’t see themself the way a healthy person does. They have a distorted self-image and they can’t just change what they see. The treatment process for eating disorders is long and difficult, and it seems like a pretty awful idea to me to put a girl who is struggling with her body image into skin-tight spandex and then tell her she just has to feel good about it.

To be fair, I haven’t seen the whole episode yet. I’ll have to watch and see what happens.

What do YOU think? Is MTV helping this girl achieve her dreams or using her for ratings?

Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. When she’s not dancing or writing, she can be found exploring the city, and let’s be honest, spending way too much time on the internet. Follow her @garnethenderson.

    Dancer, choreographer, personal trainer, and freelance writer based in New York City. More here.