Puberty has benefits?! [A response to Misty Copeland’s story]
First of all, sorry for the big gap between blog posts! I have been busy getting started at the Australian Ballet School, teaching some performance psychology classes and working with dancers one on one… but I certainly haven’t forgotten you, blog readers! Hello again!
Since Fat-Talk-Free month in February, I have been thinking a fair bit about the issue of “fatness” among dancers. Many dancers feel fat (regardless of whether they are or not) and body image plays a big role in our art-form, yet many find it a hard topic to talk about plainly in a helpful way.
So, when I read Misty Copeland’s incredibly powerful article on her journey toward body-confidence last month, I was struck by how clearly her story not only portrayed the issues so many dancers face… but also beautifully outlined the ingredients that have made her transformation such an inspiring “success story”.
Today, I just want to highlight one of these ingredients, PUBERTY, which I don’t think is talked about plainly or often enough in the dance-world, I hope you find it helpful (oh, and please take a moment to read Misty’s story if you haven’t already).
Why Is Puberty Important?
… from a health perspective, when I moved to New York City to dance with ABT, I wasn’t perfect at all. I was 19 and tiny—I’d never even menstruated. I know people see dancers as thin as I was and assume we must be anorexic. Actually, I just burned a lot of calories from the demanding routine of dancing up to nine hours a day.
So few dance students, teachers and directors realize the incredible importance of puberty to a growing young dancer with potential for a career in dance.
Many teenage dancers begin menstruating later than average. As Misty recognized, it wasn’t because she had an eating disorder, she was just putting out more energy dancing than she was putting in eating. And probably no-one warned her that there was anything wrong with that. They just looked at her outward appearance and thought all was well.
When young dancers don’t eat enough calories to match their energy output, it delays the start of menstruation, putting your bones at risk of stress fractures and early osteoporosis (I lost my period for 3 months when I first started full-time training while I got the energy in=energy out equation balanced and that contributed to a stress fracture that had me off dancing for nine. whole. months.)
This is serious dancers.
If you are 15 or older and haven’t got your period yet, or you only get it irregularly, you need to speak to a dietitian and check if your energy equation is properly balanced.
Do it now, so you don’t waste precious months of your training or career sitting on the sidelines with injuries that could be avoided by a healthy dose of menstruation!
Why we need to make room for puberty before you get a job
But about eight months after I started with the company, I fractured a bone in my back during a rehearsal. My doctor told me I needed to start menstruating because the hormones would help strengthen my bones, and he put me on the Pill. Almost overnight, my body was transformed. In one month, I gained 10 pounds, mostly in my stomach, and my 30B breasts swelled to double D…
Usually, ballerinas share costumes since we have similar builds. But now the leotards had to be altered for me—with a sheer material added to cover my cleavage, for instance. I hated this sign that I was different from the others, and I felt singled out for all the wrong reasons. I became so self-conscious that, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t dance strong. I was too busy trying to hide my breasts. After a few months, I was called in for The Talk, and the bingeing began.
Another reason it is important for dancers to get your periods young is so that you can get through the awkward phase of hormonal, body-shape and mood changes before you are in a company, facing costume fittings, role-castings and performance reviews, as sadly was the case for Miss Copeland.
Ballet school teachers and directors can give teenage students such an incredible gift by allowing room for them to go through the inevitable fluctuations of puberty without being shamed or sidelined.
If girls can get through this awkwardness now, it will save them much heartache and self-doubt later on!
Please note: Puberty is Normal!
Puberty Happens – this transition is normal!
It is not something dancers need to avoid or hide or be ashamed of…
How many body-confidence issues could be avoided altogether if teenage dance students knew that their pubescent body changes were normal and not a sign they’re “fat” and need to lose weight?!
Unfortunately, the creative and destructive ways that impressionable teenage ballet students think up to solve this “problem” of puberty, usually only reinforce a negative body-image, delay even further the process of puberty and increase the likelihood of consequences on bone health and fertility.
Yes, puberty is uncomfortable, hormones rage, moods yo-yo and your body may not feel like your own for quite a while. You may miss out on a special role in your school production, or a medal in that big competition this year. That’s ok. You’re in transition. It won’t be like this forever.
One day, your body will find its new balance.
Love your body
I’d always believed that what mattered was how I looked, how well I embodied certain standards of perfection. But now I started to understand that my body’s natural evolution into womanhood had validity, too. Dancing had always made me happy, and I wanted that back. So my priority became simply accepting my new self. I focused on what I wanted: to feel good, to be confident in my skin again, to dance.
Misty Copeland started loving herself from the inside out and realising her own value.
She surrounded herself with friends from outside the ballet world who saw more to her than just what she saw in the studio mirror. She also found a mentor from within the ballet world who believed in her, who was able to help her persevere to reach her potential as a dancer. She started enjoying dance again.
Do the same
Keep your eyes focused on the strong, mature and stable body that you will develop by getting the transition of puberty behind you, so you can become a great dancer with a healthy body and a long career.
And last of all, love your body, even with its lumps and bumps… this is the journey of every girl becoming a woman. Being confident in your own skin is such a powerful part of what makes you beautiful (…and you really are)!
Take care, and you know if you need it, I’m here to help!