After the season of over-indulging, during which most Americans gain 5 to 15 pounds, there is usually the New Year’s resolution to lose 10 to 15 pounds (or more!). Television commercials switch from luscious desserts to weight-loss products, the ab-roller and the amazing Bow-flex personal gym. Department stores advertise every possible gym and exercise apparel as being “on sale” to cash in on the hype. It goes on and on; every year it’s the same. For gym-goers, the gym is much more crowded than ever with increased wait-times for treadmills, elliptical trainers and exercise bikes. One New York critic, however, wasted no time in telling a professional ballerina that she needed to cut back on her eating!
Alastair Macaulay, writer and critic, attended and reviewed George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” at the New York Ballet. His comments regarding Jenifer Ringer, the prima ballerina who portrayed the sugarplum fairy, stimulated much press, outrage and commentary. Mr. Macaulay stated that Jenifer Ringer “…looked as if she ate one too many sugarplums.” Miss Ringer appeared on the TODAY show on December 13th, and, if anyone saw the interview, she is far from being overweight! Just Google images for Jenifer Ringer, and one would be hard-pressed to criticize this beautiful young lady for being overweight. It takes a lot of stamina, muscle strength and skill to perform in such a role as this ballerina, qualities that cannot be present when one is “starved”, anorexic or obese! Dr. Rebecca Puhl, clinical psychologist and Director of Research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, wrote a blog for Medscape addressing this very issue.
So what is this stereotype? Did it actually start with Barbie dolls?
Some would say it did. The Barbie doll, marketed by Mattel, provides an image to very young girls of the “ideal” body type. Well, medical research has proven that not all body types are the same, and despite hours of exercise and regimented eating, some will never achieve the “Barbie-body.” One of the problems is that some young women actually die trying to achieve this ideal. Anorexia and bulimia are both psychiatric conditions that have serious negative impacts on the body and its major organ systems. Many models, and even ballerinas, struggle with body image as driven by the media and critics like Mr. Macaulay. But so do many high school and college women! The National Eating Disorders organization estimates that nearly 10 million women and 1 million men struggle with eating disorders in the US. For many of these individuals, it is a life-long battle with life and death!
WomensHealth.gov is a government source for women’s health topics, of which “body image” is a serious topic. The site discusses issues such as cosmetic surgery, dieting, over-eating, and over-exercising. The site also offers additional sources for being kind to your body and fact sheets related to the various eating disorders.
In the United States, there is currently an epidemic of obesity. It is much publicized, and changes are being made both nationally through Congress and in local school systems where healthier options are provided for school childrens’ consumption. Some school systems have even limited the number of birthday parties and treats allowed on a monthly basis. This is NOT a bad thing! When one considers the complications of morbid obesity alone, the burden on healthcare and the morbidity and mortality of the associated conditions is staggering! Diabetes, congestive heart failure, respiratory failure and cirrhosis from fatty liver disease all come to mind. Then, apply some of the surgical procedures available today (namely gastric bypass) with the associated morbidity and mortality of these procedures, and the statistics related to surgical complications and even death rise even more rapidly.
So, what is the bottom line?
MODERATION! EATING RIGHT! EXERCISE!
Maintaining an ideal body weight is very important to overall health, but overall health cannot be achieved through diet alone. One must exercise routinely. This is what should be taught in schools and in the home! Binge exercising in January as part of a New Year’s resolution, only to lose one’s way as the year progresses and life gets busier, is not much different than binge-eating or binge-dieting. We are talking about lifestyle changes that incorporate healthier food choices and routine exercise on a daily basis. Given that we are all creatures of habit, this is a change that is not an easy one! It needs to start as early as possible and be maintained as long as possible.
We also need to stifle the comments of the Mr. Macaulay’s of this world; critique the performance, not the poundage of an ideal body weight ballerina who is in excellent physical condition! We, as a society, cannot continue to promote thinness, per se. Promote ideal body weight, physical conditioning (including flexibility) and healthy diets, and it must start at home!
What did you think of Mr. Macaulay’s comments? Do you know someone who suffered with this body image problem? How did they work their way out of this nightmarish existence?
Related Posts: Alistair Macaulay speaks out after the firestorm he created.