December 14, 2010

Fat Ballerinas


In a November 29th review of The Nutcracker, New York Times critic Alastair Macauley called New York City Ballerina Jenifer Ringer fat. OK, in his defense he didn’t actually use the word FAT. He said Ms. Ringer, and I quote “looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many”. In my book that’s calling someone FAT.

Ms. Ringer is gorgeous. To me she’s slender and beautiful and graceful. She’s someone I could tell my daughter to look at and not feel my daughter will wonder if she has to be stick thin to be elegant or beautiful.

As someone who struggled with weight for a number of years, I know that words like Mr. Macauley’s can sting. And his words brought me back to the review in Rolling Stone that put Karen Carpenter on the path which ultimately killed her. My mom was a huge Carpenter’s fan and one of my fondest memories was watching the Karen Carpenter Story with my mom and singing along.

So when I read that this critic, in his last paragraph, said something so passive aggressive about a principal ballerina’s weight I had to find out more about her. Ms. Ringer has been a professional ballerina since the age of 16. She’s battled weight issues early in her career and left the ballet to get help. Now, she’s a mom with a body most of us would kill for.

As a mom, I want to encourage my daughter. I want her to have women to look up to. Women who have different shaped bodies. Women who are experts at their craft, yet don’t look like they’ve been skipping meals for a few years. I know I’ll have to explain this whole concept of ‘being fat’.

But here’s the thing, more than half of all Americans are overweight. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 63.1% of adults in the U.S. were either overweight or obese in 2009. It doesn’t mean that ballerinas are too. But the reality is that when we look around us in our every day lives we’re looking at people who are not in tip top physical condition.

Ms. Ringer is able to perform in one of the top ballet companies in the world. If she were physically unfit, I can understand the critic calling her out. Her performance would be lacking. But his comment wasn’t about her performance. It was purely about his perception of what a ballerina should look like. And to him fat ballerinas need not apply.

It’s harsh out there. I tell my daughter that people come in different sizes and shape. We don’t judge people based on their looks. But do we really? I try not to. Maybe this critic feels it’s his job to criticize something. That the review must have something in it that makes the show imperfect.

So what’s easier than calling a ballerina fat? Evidently, not much.

Well, Mr. Macauley, you can suck it. Ms. Ringer is not FAT. If you’re unable to see that she’s got a woman’s body and that toned and muscled body not only performed beautifully but also allows her to be a healthy role model to young girls everywhere, that’s a you problem and you need to step off and not call women fat just because they don’t fit into your stereotype of anorexic thinness.




Vdemetros December 14, 2010 at 9:45 am

When people say these kinds of things, it really makes me crazy. He has no idea what impact his statement really has, and how it perpetuates the skinny dancer image. As a society, we need to realize that thin is not always better. Healthy is better, it’s just that simple. Overweight is not healthy and underweight isn’t either. Unfortunately, Hollywood, ballet, magazines, etc. are not sending that message. We may tell our daughters one thing, but they see and hear another. I hope that ballerina doesn’t put too much weight (sorry) into his comment, but if she’s already had weight issues, I’m sure it hurt!

Sara December 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Valerie, you’re right that we’re hung up on this ‘fat/skinny’ mentality when in reality it should be about healthy. Publicly she’s put on a good front. I just hope that at quiet moments his words don’t creep into her head and start to destroy all the work she has done to become healthy.

2girlsonabench December 14, 2010 at 9:53 am

Oh that we could all be as “fat” as that ballerina! The real question is whether Mr. Macauley can walk around on his toes all day, leap in the air and spin around in circles without falling. We’re thinking not so much, so he say what he likes, but we know he’s really just jealous! #benchwisdom

Sara December 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Hello Ladies! Jealousy is probably right, especially given how it was written – last paragraph, more of an afterthought/zinger. Maybe he got what he wanted, notoriety. Any publicity is good publicity, I guess, in his book.

Theresa Sonoda December 14, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Very well said! I’m so sick of weight jokes being acceptable humor. In these days of everyone having to be politically correct, how’d that get left out?

Good points. Enjoyed your post.


Sara December 16, 2010 at 12:03 am


Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Yes, it’s still OK to make fun of ‘fat people’. I don’t know why that is, as you pointed out with our very PC world. We’re so appearance focused and are judged on what we look like, which often puts many people at a disadvantage.

shifra December 15, 2010 at 1:23 am

I love being a fat ballerina!!! Actually, I laughed out loud when I read “suck it.” Love this post!!!

Kelly@Childhood December 15, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I wish I were a fat ballerina. She’s beautiful! What a well written post Sara. I also teach my girls about people coming in all shapes and sizes. I dread the conversation where I have to explain why their role model was torn down… I cherish these little people years where all I have to explain is why Dora’s head is so much bigger than Diego’s. My answer? The artist who draws Dora likes big hair.

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