a physical therapist and nutritionist who works with dancers, I
would like to commend Gaynor Minden for launching this necessary
campaign, "Eat Right. Respect Your Body. Dance Forever."
These three short sentences encapsulate powerful directions and
are true words to live by. Each one is dependent upon the next.
Our modern society is one obsessed with image and thinness. One
only needs to watch television, open a magazine or visit a store
to experience the onslaught of the multi-billion dollar dies industry.
Ironically, as a society, we have never been as overweight as today.
We set an impossible body ideal and in doing so, set people up to
fail. Over the past three decades, increasingly thin body ideals
were directly correlated with an increased incidence of eating disorders
However, the media is not the only culprit. There are often chemical,
psychological, sociological, and environmental reasons for the development
of an eating disorder. In the ballet world, there are often extreme
pressures to maintain a thin body shape. Line is everything.
In a study by Garner and Garfinkel, it was found that in an environment
in which thinness per se is necessary for success (ballet schools
and modeling agencies were studied), the rate of anorexia nervosa
is about ten times greater then that of the general population .
When Garner and Garfinkel added another dimension to their study,
it was found that it is the combination of strict requirements for
thinness along with the highly competitive environment of the ballet
school that significantly increases the risk of eating disorders.
More disturbing still were the results of a widespread study published
in the International Journal of Eating Disorders . It studied
disordered eating in professional ballet companies across North
America and Western Europe. Results showed that 15% of the Americans
and 23% of the Europeans questioned had anorexia nervosa, while
19% of the Americans and 29% of the Europeans reported having bulimia.
Along with these shocking results came the interesting fact that
there were no cases of either anorexia or bulimia among black dancers.
The black dancers reported greater body image satisfaction. This
suggests that there may be ethnic group differences that contribute
to body image. It was also noted that most of the anorexic dancers
were from more competitive national dance companies.
In a study by Schnitt et. al., modern dancers were studied to determine
the incidence of anorexia nervosa (bulimia was not studied) .
It was determined that the modern dance subjects did not show anorectic
attitudes as frequently as ballet dancers, despite being nearly
as thin. There could be several reasons for this difference. The
professional pressures put on modern dancers are often not as great
as those placed on ballet dancers. Also, most modern are trained
through university programs that offer broader experiences rather
than professional ballet schools which tend to be more insular and
Digesting the results of the aforementioned studies, we are reminded
that factors influencing eating disorders are as complex as the
people who suffer from them. We as directors, patrons, teachers,
therapists, doctors, parents, and friends of dancers need to improve
upon the existing environment. We need to take a collective stance
against the pressures to be too thin. We need to promote a healthy
body image in order to have healthy dancers.
We also need to be aware of the warning signs and be able to get
the dancer to the appropriate help as quickly as possible. In many
situations, serious eating problems persist far too long without
Visible Characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa
-Odd food rituals (i.e. counting bites of food, cutting food into
tiny pieces, preparing food for others while refusing to eat)
-Intense fear of becoming fat
-Avoidance of situations where food will be present
-Strict exercise regimes
-Wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss
-Use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics to get rid of food
-Cessation of menstruation (amenorrhea)
-Often feels cold
-Fainting spells, dizziness
-Self-worth based on what is consumed
Visible Characteristics of Bulimia Nervosa
-Sneaks food, secretive eating
-Preoccupation with food
-Self-hatred when too much food is consumed
-Bathroom visits after meals
-Vomiting, laxative abuse or fasting
-Extreme exercise routines
-Enlarged salivary glands, bloated cheeks or broken blood vessels
under the skin
-Frequent sore throats
-Complaints of muscles aches
-Self-loathing and self-criticism
-Self-worth determined by food choices
If left untreated, eating disorders can cause a myriad of medical
complications and at their worst, the loss of life. Your life is
important. An eating disorder can thwart a successful life and career,
interrupt your thinking, steal hours, chances and opportunities.
We want to see you dance forever, so
eat right and respect
1. Lucas et al., "50-Year Trends in the Incidence of Anorexia
Nervosa in Rochester, MN: a Population-Based Study," American
Journal of Psychiatry, 148 (1999), pp. 917-922.
2. Garfinkel and Garner, Anorexia Nervosa, pp.112-117.
3. L.H. Hamilton, J. Brooks-Gunn, and M.P. Warren, "Sociocultural
Influences on Eating Disorders in Professional Ballet Dancers, "
International Journal of Eating Disorders, 4 (1985), pp. 456-478.
4. Schnitt, et. al., (1986). Anorexia Nervose and Thinness in Modern
Dance Students: Comparison with Ballerinas. Annals of Sports Medicine,
3 , pp. 9-13.