“Eating Disorders in Ballet: A Call to Action”
In ballet, the pressure to be skinny from the outside world is almost as strong as the pressure from the ballet world itself. You want to be the skinniest, the most flexible, the most beautiful. People not only think that eating disorders in ballerinas happen, they think it’s normal. They expect you to have an eating disorder. Experts say that of all the people in the world that have eating disorders, 16% of them are ballerinas . We need to change our attitude towards skinny ballerinas, and work on the pressure we place on the ballet world to produce girls that look like sticks. We have to raise awareness, or ballet is going to become extinct, because we cannot continue to expect so much from our dancers, and expect them to have an eating disorder too. It’s dangerous and it’s harmful, and it’s much too old fashioned for a world where mental health is finally getting the attention it deserves. It’s our time to change how people think about ballerinas. They should be thought about as athletes that accomplish incredible feats while staying healthy and balanced, not as crazy anorexic girls whose bones show through their skin.
We’ve all heard it before. After someone asks if you can stand on your toes, and if you wear ‘those toe shoes’, they ask ‘do you eat?’. And you have to answer, that yes, yes you do. The attitude towards ballet from the outside world never fails to astound or surprise me. Often, people are so narrow minded that they think that ballet dancers must be that skinny because they never eat, not because they exercise. No other profession in the world is put under so much pressure by the public eye. And that pressure leaks into the ballet world.
Since the beginning of true classical ballet, there’s been a body type. Tall, skinny, flexible, even as specific as to being blonde. Everyone wants to be that perfect ballerina in a tutu, and it’s hard to open your eyes and realize there are a lot of dancers now that leave this narrow minded view of dance. Like Sandish Shoker said in her article for BBC News , there is an unspoken competitiveness between dancers. In a world where everyone is wearing the same leotard, with their hair pulled back in a bun and the same shoes on their feet, there’s a struggle to become different. And for many, the answer is to become the skinniest. According to the National Library of Medicine’s website , of the 12% that have eating disorders, 16% of them are ballet dancers. According to another article published by the National LIbrary of Medicine , 83% of dancers showed a history of some kind of eating disorder. Not only does the ballet world and attitude of people from the outside effect the pressure placed on dancers, media does as well. Even media directed at only dancers encourages weight loss and extreme fitness. Magazines like Pointe Magazine, put pressures on dancers by encouraging the ‘typical ballet body’. Despite steps being taken by many important and influential ballet schools to raise awareness, the sad truth is, eating disorders in the studio are skated over. As long as you’re not ‘too’ skinny, it’s often even ignored. Our attitude, inside and outside the ballet world, has to change before dancers become extinct because of their eating habits. An average ballet class burns hundreds of calories, and a professional ballerina takes on average, three to four classes a day, plus rehearsals. Ballet dancers should be eating double the calories, not restricting to the point of starvation.
Out of the deaths in the world, 4% are from anorexia, 3.9% are from bulimia, and 5.2% are from eating disorders not specified . The scary reality is that eating disorders harm and kill. If you don’t die from an eating disorder, there are complications that can have an impact on the rest of your life. People who suffer from anorexia or other eating disorders include amenorrhea, tooth decay and stomach and digestive issues, kidney damage (and other organs), high or low blood pressure, and heart problems . Ballet can even speed up the process, considering how much abuse you’re already putting your body through on a daily basis. An eating disorder can weaken the bones, and one false move can result in a career ending injury. There are so many dangers that already come with being a dancer, adding an eating disorder to that is something that can threaten your life very easily. Eating disorders are not only dangerous, but they affect your ability to do your job well. The symptoms include dehydration, dizziness, exhaustion, depression, low blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms.  All of these could result in being removed or demoted from your company, lead to a decline in performance quality, and even result in a career ending injury.
One day, I hope to become a dietitian and psychologist that specializes in eating disorders in dancers. I think it’s very important that we start raising awareness about how prevalent eating disorders are inside the dance studio, and how dangerous they truly are. At this time in the world, mental health is becoming a very important issue, and it’s becoming easier for people to admit that it truly is a problem. We have to seize the day and start raising awareness. Until it becomes something that’s not so taboo we can’t talk about it, dancers need to know there are resources and support for eating disorders online and all around you, you just have to look for them. The National Eating Disorder website even has a resource dictionary where you can find a program or doctor that is the best fit for you. 
In conclusion, while it’s important to raise awareness inside the ballet world, we also have to change the attitude towards ballerinas in the outside world too. People are incredibly misinformed about eating disorders in general, thus we must fight to change the way people think, and teach them things they do not know. The attitude that’s been festering for decades, that ballerinas must be skinny, that it’s okay for the dancer must change. Therefore, we have to raise awareness everywhere. I hope to one day to join the charge against eating disorders. It’s very important to me that these teenagers that are suffering in silence because they think it’s ‘normal’, get the help the need.
Prevalence of eating disorders among dancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis, US National Library of medicine, by several authors- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24277724
Ballet and Eating Disorders: “Unspoken competiviness” adds pressure to be thin, BBC News, by Sandish Soker- http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-22985310
Eating disorder symptomatology among ballet dancers, National Library of Medicine, by several authors- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16715486
Eating disorder statistics, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and other Associated Disorders, no author listed- http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-d...
 Complications from Eating Disorders, Mayo Clinc, no author listed- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eati...
Eating Disorder Symptoms, Mayo Clinic, no author listed- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eati...
Resource links, National Eating Disorders, no author listed- http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-li...
Starving for Perfection, Dance Spirit Magazine by Sarah Badger- http://www.dancespirit.com/2011/09/starving_for_pe...
Eating Disorders Haunt Ballerinas, New York Times, by Jennifer Dunning- http://www.nytimes.com/1997/07/16/arts/eating-diso...
I was born to dance again, NEDA, by Mandi Denger- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24277724
Characteristics of eating disorders among young ballet dancers, National Library of Medicine, several authors- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8865353
A/N: All the underlined numbers/words were originally links to each individual source. I don't have time to plug them all back in, so just imagine they're there lol