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Wendy Whelan -- Into The Future

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I don’t think she should be ashamed either. To me she doesn’t look more muscular than any other dancer; she just lacks virtually any body fat and thus looks “ripped.” All I can see is an emaciated dancer, not athleticism or beauty.

But like you said, she has every right to put whatever she wants out there. Already a dancer has commented that she always wishes she had been as skinny as Whelan.

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28 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

I don’t think she should be ashamed either. To me she doesn’t look more muscular than any other dancer; she just lacks virtually any body fat and thus looks “ripped.” All I can see is an emaciated dancer, not athleticism or beauty.

Hmm, yes, at least on her back those don't look like muscles to me, they look like ribs — more prominent than I can remember seeing on any other dancer.

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Well, I'm comparing her muscles to myself ;)  Pretty impressive to me!  Her arms and abs specifically.

I've been skinny shamed my whole life, despite being healthy.  I've been called "bag of bones".  So, I feel for Wendy when the public calls pictures of her body "horrible".

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Balletwannabe said:

I've been skinny shamed my whole life, despite being healthy.  I've been called "bag of bones".  So, I feel for Wendy when the public calls pictures of her body "horrible".

Completely get that. Not the word I would use. But the image is striking, and not in a completely comfortable way (for me).

Edited by nanushka

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Unfortunately she is not the only dancer to post these "thinspiration" photo shots and I'm always disheartened by "I wish I could be this thin!" comments, especially when followed up with "my teacher says I need to lose 10 pounds how do I do it?"

It's not just ballerinas either. I've seen prominent male dancers who have posted photos I'd consider "thinspiration" pics.

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20 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Unfortunately she is not the only dancer to post these "thinspiration" photo shots and I'm always disheartened by "I wish I could be this thin!" comments, especially when followed up with "my teacher says I need to lose 10 pounds how do I do it?"

It's not just ballerinas either. I've seen prominent male dancers who have posted photos I'd consider "thinspiration" pics.

But here's a trouble -- I doubt that Whelan posted this in order to shame anyone, or to be used as motivation for unhealthy weight loss.  Social media makes it so easy to re-purpose images or comments in ways that the originators never intended or endorsed.

Aesthetics aside, like all of us, Whelan has a specific body, and it responds to physical training in a specific way.  I don't know enough about her to say anything about her current status, but I'm going to assume that she's healthy.  What I do know is that healthy looks very different on different people.  To use an image of one person as inspiration for another with a different shape/size/metabolism is not only ineffective but cruel. 

Pacific Northwest Ballet just finished a run of their Swan Lake, where the Russian variation in the national dances is re-cast as a "Persian" dance.  Paul Tazewell's costume is based on a conventional belly dancer's, with a bra top and diaphanous skirt, so that we see the dancer's torso very clearly.  All the casts I saw this time around were very slender, with pronounced abdominal muscles, and in one case, her back ribs were also clearly defined. 

Should these women, all of them principal dancers at the company and so therefore automatically "successful," be used as role models?  Certainly yes, based on what I know of their skills, but that's not necessarily what you see in a photo.

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8 hours ago, Balletwannabe said:

Well, I'm comparing her muscles to myself ;)  Pretty impressive to me!  Her arms and abs specifically.

I've been skinny shamed my whole life, despite being healthy.  I've been called "bag of bones".  So, I feel for Wendy when the public calls pictures of her body "horrible".

It's an important point you make, and I don't support shaming at all. (Some people treat skinny-shaming as a joke, but it's very real.) People leaving comments like "eat something" or comparing her to a Holocaust survivor are very hurtful. 

I guess I was just hopeful that Whelan might be mindful of the effect her photos might have on the legions of young fans that follow her. She has nothing to be ashamed of -- and has every right to be proud of her body. But 99% of dancers wouldn't be able to achieve her physique without severely limiting their food intake. She's an anomaly, even in the rarified world of skinny ballet dancers. Take someone like Tiler Peck -- you can't get much more physically fit and technically proficient than she -- yet I have to imagine she'd only achieve the Whelan look if she starved herself. Luckily, dancers at NYCB don't appear to be striving to do so.

Sandik makes an important point about how "healthy" looks different on different people. There's no way Whelan would have sustained such long and relatively injury-free career (at least until the big injury toward the end of her career) if she weren't healthy. But to the casual observer, who may not know her back story, she looks like someone who has starved herself. That super skinny thigh, hardly thicker than a man's arm, looks incapable of supporting the activity of dance. But obviously, she did dance with those legs.

I've seen tons of pictures of Whelan over the years, and certainly she's always been rail thin, but these have been the first to make me feel uncomfortable, perhaps because they seem shot in a way to highlight just how skinny and sinewy she is/was. 

Edited by fondoffouettes

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4 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

I've seen tons of pictures of Whelan over the years, and certainly she's always been rail thin, but these have been the first to make me feel uncomfortable, perhaps because they seem shot to highlight just how skinny and sinewy she is/was. 

Photographs can convey (or at least suggest) values through their formal features, it's true. One isn't seeing the body; one is seeing a particular representation of the body, in two dimensions, with a whole variety of compositional techniques coming into play.

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As a photographer seeing this image, without any reference to the person or to ballet, this reads like a document of starvation after a war. That's how it would be used at a photo agency. The formal values suggest a very grim ordeal. Part of it is the sepia/b&w, the shadowy lighting, and the positon. It doesn't read as skinny or shaming of anyone's body size to me. It also could be part of the 70s performance art. Unfortunately I don't think WW realized how it looked from the outsize. 

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23 minutes ago, Quiggin said:

As a photographer seeing this image, without any reference to the person or to ballet, this reads like a document of starvation after a war. That's how it would be used at a photo agency. The formal values suggest a very grim ordeal. Part of it is the sepia/b&w, the shadowy lighting, and the positon. It doesn't read as skinny or shaming of anyone's body size to me. It also could be part of the 70s performance art. Unfortunately I don't think WW realized how it looked from the outsize. 

These are the other photos that, to me at least, read the same way as what you describe above. The protruding veins, the oddly rounded yet muscular stomach. Every vertebra in her back exposed.

 

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I'm not sure but these pictures seem to glorify emaciation. As a former ED sufferer, I find it painful to see.

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I too find the pictures rather off putting. Wendy W was alway very thin. She was also strong and, as someone else commented, rarely injured over the course of a long career. These photos do not show her strength or stamina. They portray starvation. I don't know what her point is.

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From an interview 7 years ago:

"When I was 12, they discovered that I had scoliosis. I wore a brace for about five years. I only took it off to dance and to bathe. Dancing was my release. I became aware of my weaknesses and of my strengths both physically and emotionally. I was well into my professional career when I was first criticized for being too thin, too angular and crooked. It was a shock after I had reached that pinnacle. I have a body where, if I drop a few pounds, it shows a lot. I wasn't trying to lose weight, but when you work hard during the season, you do. I felt defenseless. Even now, it can still feel harsh when a critic remarks on my “physicality" as a flaw in my dancing, because of all the effort I put into my body. It's my own personal house of cards, a serious work of art that I've spent decades building. It's truly not something I could or would ever change. Although a negative criticism will certainly sting, I don't dwell on it. I try to remind myself that nobody has a perfect body and no dancer is a perfect dancer. True beauty lies within each of us to create for ourselves the best we can with what we have been given."

 

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1 hour ago, Balletwannabe said:

Another interview about her body (part 1)

https://youtu.be/KIZhwPvtQj4

 

That's interesting. At the beginning of part 2, she talks a bit about working through an eating disorder when she was a student and mentions her teachers making her gain 20 pounds. I didn't realize she had ever gone on the record about an eating disorder. This would make me think she'd only be more sensitive to the images she puts out there. But she's obviously incredibly proud of her body as a work of art. 

As vipa said, the photos read as portraits of starvation. It's quite different from the powerful images of her in performance.

I've found her angularity and crookedness to be exactly what makes her so appealing. She wouldn't have lost those qualities if she had gained a few pounds.

"I have a body where, if I drop a few pounds, it shows a lot. I wasn't trying to lose weight, but when you work hard during the season, you do. I felt defenseless."

If she wanted to change this, surely she could have sought advice on how to increase her caloric intake, etc. I get the sense that she wanted to maintain the absolute minimum weight that still would allow her to do her job. She's still thin as a rail in retirement, without the rigors of a regular performance schedule to keep her that way. 

Edited by fondoffouettes

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35 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Whelan was a great ballerina despite her body, not because of it. I hope young dancers who rightly see her as a model for their own artistry realize that. 

Exactly. I remember I was horrified and turned off when I first saw her - she was in a leotard, and in addition to the scary thinness, she has a strange rib cage, perhaps related to her spine problems. However, I came to adore her as an NYCB ballerina. Looking at just her arms in the video interview posted upthread though, I actually think it would be problematic for her to represent the company at the highest levels of management. I shudder to think of the message it would send to SAB students. The issues around weight in the ballet world are quite serious, and likely more of a present danger to dancers than Martins was at this time, in his later years.

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