Striving to be Thin: Pressures, Unrealistic Ideals and Essential Reformations in the Ballet World

Alyssa Mitchel


The physical demands and aesthetic expectations for the female, adolescent, pre-professional ballerina to maintain a low body-weight are substantial and may impact her physically, mentally, and socially As a result, eighty-three percent of female ballet dancers have a lifetime incidence of some form of clinical eating disorder[i], the two most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.[ii] The first purpose of this ethics study is to investigate why such a large percentage of adolescent pre-professional ballerinas develop symptoms of eating disorders. The second purpose is to address the values that should guide society on this issue. Through reviewing academic literature and interviewing six individuals (all having connections to the classical ballet world), the researcher argues that the main factors relating ballerinas and eating disorders include pressures from teachers, the ballet environment, and perfectionism. Furthermore, the researcher argues that the ballet world is not evolving and institutional sexism continues to exist. Solutions include promoting and integrating nutrition education and creating supportive environments with available resources for pre-professional ballerinas. To support and eliminate the number of adolescent, pre-professional ballerinas with eating disorders we must change the ideals of society and audience members and empower females. Ballet ought to be understood as collaborative art and a celebration of human life and experiences.

[i] Sanna M. Nordin-Bates, Imogen J. Walker, and Emma Redding, “Correlates of Disordered Eating Attitudes Among Male and Female Young Talented Dancers: Findings From the UK Centres for Advanced Training,”Eating Disorders 19 (2011): 212.

[ii] Psychiatrist Interview, 22 September 2013.


Eating Disorders; Pre-Professional Ballerinas; Perfectionism

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