Ballet and Body Image: The Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Dance

With graceful lines and layers of tulle, the world of dance is certainly one of beauty. From a young age, dancers are taught about poise, musicality and movement – all of which must come together in a performance of flawless grace.

Within the world of dance, however, the pressures to constantly perform with such beauty and elegance can require a certain physique. As a result, eating disorders are unfortunately common. Here’s what you need to know about the prevalence of eating disorders in dance and how you can encourage your teen to feel comfortable in their own body.

Prevalence of Eating Disorders

In the United States, eating disorders affect approximately 30 million Americans at some point in their lifetime, which is approximately 9% of the entire population. However, in dance, it’s estimated that 12% of dancers as a whole struggle with an eating disorder. This number is even higher amongst ballet dancers, where over 16% live with an eating disorder.

Why is this? Why do dancers find themselves at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder?

Teen Dance Eating Disorders

Image Credit: WikimediaImages

Understanding the World of Dance

Understanding the expectations that dancers face can help paint a picture of why so many might develop an eating disorder.


For those who train in dance, whether professionally or recreationally, it’s a process of pushing your body’s limits and constantly working towards increased control and discipline. In spite of this, our bodies are wired a certain way, and when puberty hits, we realize that we can’t necessarily control how we’re shaped, even if it doesn’t align with expectations. In other words, curves are often unacceptable in a dancer’s world, and many dancers will find the need to control the way their body looks in the same way that they learn to control how it moves.


Like many professions, dance is a competitive one and, unfortunately, often has a lot to do with what a dancer looks like. If you’re one of many in the “corps de ballet” (the large group that dances together), it’s often expected that you look almost the same as your peers. Put simply, to succeed, you often need to conform and maintain certain weight or image expectations.

Teens Athletics Positive Body Image

Image Credit: extremis

Encouraging Confidence

As a parent, how can you encourage your teen to be confident in their own body whether they’re an athlete or a dancer?

Monitor Thoughts

Start by encouraging your teen to monitor their thoughts. Ask them to notice what they think about their own body image. If they find themselves often thinking negatively about their appearance, encourage them to replace these thoughts with positive affirmations like “my body is beautiful and unique just the way it is.”

Avoid Comparisons

We are often our harshest critics and these critiques often come when we compare ourselves to others. Encourage your teen to be confident in who they are and avoid comparing them to others in their class or on their team. If your teen starts to compare themselves to others, encourage them to list or focus on their strengths and gifts that they contribute.

Look to Role Models

Many athletes and professional dancers are starting to speak out against body image expectations in competitions. In this video, Ukrainian gymnast Anezka Ruzicka shares her journey.

For some additional outside inspiration, here are nine women who are teaching others about body love and fighting the body image expectations placed on dancers.

At the end of the day, it’s important for your teen to know that they can continue training in the sport or dance that they love without compromising their health and well-being.

Feature Image: skeeze