The world of ballet is a realm of artistry and dedication, captivating audiences with its grace and beauty. However, beneath the spotlight lies a profound issue - the intricate relationship between ballet and eating disorders. As someone who trained in the ballet world during the 80s and early 90s, I've witnessed the challenges and complexities firsthand. In this blog post, I'll share insights into why the ballet world can be a breeding ground for eating disorders and how individuals can find help and support. If you or someone you know is struggling with these issues, please don't hesitate to contact me for a free, confidential conversation.
Perfectionism and the Pursuit of Excellence: Ballet and Eating Disorders
Ballet often attracts individuals with perfectionist personalities. To excel in ballet, one must constantly push the boundaries of perfection, leading to extremes in various aspects of life, including body image. The relentless pursuit of being the "best" can easily set the stage for developing an eating disorder.
Eating Disorders as Coping Mechanisms
Eating disorders can serve as coping mechanisms within the ballet world. The stress and pressure of daily training and performances can become overwhelming. Restricted eating or overeating can provide a temporary escape or sense of control. It's crucial to recognise that these behaviours, although initially providing relief, lead to a vicious cycle that is detrimental to both physical and mental health.
Body Image Challenges in Ballet
Growing up in the world of ballet means experiencing puberty in leotards, constantly scrutinising your body in front of mirrors. This unique environment can make it exceptionally difficult to accept the natural changes your body undergoes during adolescence. The pressure to conform to a single idealised image of a ballerina can be overwhelming.
The Role of Teachers, Parents, and Peers
In the 80s and 90s, ballet teachers, even parents, often lacked basic knowledge and training in mental health, leading to harmful body shaming. However, it's crucial to note that even well-intentioned praise for weight loss can exacerbate the issue. The competitive nature of ballet training, combined with the desire for validation, can further fuel unhealthy eating habits.
Challenges for Male Dancers
While eating disorders are often associated with female dancers, male dancers also face unique challenges. Issues like not feeling muscular or tall enough can contribute to unhealthy habits. The perception of the "ideal" male ballet physique adds complexity to this issue.
The Isolation of an Eating Disorder
Living with an eating disorder can be an incredibly isolating experience. When you're constantly preoccupied with thoughts of food, weight, and body image, it becomes challenging to engage in social activities or maintain healthy relationships. The shame and guilt that often accompany eating disorders further isolate individuals.
Stress and Societal Pressures
Today, the prevalence of eating disorders extends beyond ballet to other aspects of life due to societal pressures and the constant availability of food. Stress and tension can exacerbate these issues, affecting individuals both inside and outside the ballet world.
Personal Struggles and Recovery
My journey through the ballet world led to extreme food restriction as I sought to excel in dance and that included control over my body. Leaving school and joining the company, disrupted my structured environment, and I started a cycle of restriction and binging that took a toll on both my physical and mental health. It's essential to understand that an eating disorder is a constant and lonely battle, and it can be difficult to find the right support. But recovery is possible.
Navigating Fasting and Dietary Trends
In today's fast-paced world, fasting and extreme diet trends have become increasingly prevalent. As someone who has faced eating disorders, I must tread carefully in this landscape. These contemporary trends have the potential to trigger old habits and trigger a relapse. Sure, I tried some of the trends, persuaded by the promise of improved health and energy, only to be left feeling lethargic and miserable. It's paramount that I prioritise both my mental and physical well-being over the allure of fleeting, even scientifically supported, dietary trends.
Seeking Help and Finding Balance
Overcoming an eating disorder requires acknowledging the issue and taking the initiative to seek help. Whether you're in the ballet world or not, the first step toward recovery is a personal one. It's important to remember that no one can make this decision for you; it must come from within.
Finding The Right Support
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible but requires significant effort and the right support. Often, cognitive therapy approaches are offered to the sufferer with very little success since the root cause is a deep and complex emotional problem. Therefore, one has recovery can only initiated by addressing the emotional pain that the eating disorder tries to soothe. Recovery offers freedom from the isolation, shame, and obsession that eating disorders bring.
How I Can Help
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, know that there is help available. However, the decision to seek help must come from within. Supportive friends, family, and professionals can provide assistance, but the individual with an eating disorder must take that first step.
.As a hypnotherapist and ballet teacher for adult students, I have tools through hypnotherapy to help those facing food-related challenges. If you are ready to take the first courageous step please reach out to me for a free, confidential conversation. Together, we can embark on a journey towards healing, recovery, and a healthier relationship with food.
Watch My YouTube Video
I shared my thoughts in response to news of ex-ballet students suing their schools because of their eating disorders.