Misty Copeland’s body-im­age ba­sics

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY SARAH L. KAUFMAN book­world@wash­post.com

Misty Copeland’s new book, “Bal­le­rina Body,” co-au­thored by Charisse Jones (Grand Cen­tral Life & Style, $30), is hand­somely de­signed and sweetly, earnestly com­posed. The premise is ap­peal­ing: Copeland, a prin­ci­pal dancer with Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre, wants us to em­bark with her on a jour­ney to well­ness, to weave work­outs through­out our day, and to by­pass the mac and cheese and dine in­stead like elite bal­leri­nas do, on shrimp and sushi, washed down with a glass of pros­ecco.

What could be more chic? It gets bet­ter: If we fol­low Copeland’s “bal­le­rina body plan,” eat­ing like her and stretch­ing like her, we can, if we’re dis­ci­plined enough, end up look­ing like her.

This mes­sage is high­lighted by the book’s many barely clothed stu­dio por­traits of the pe­tite, leggy, hy­per-flex­i­ble Copeland. Ev­ery mus­cle is mounded and oiled. You could serve tea on the pol­ished plane of her abs. A spar­row has more body fat. No ques­tion, this bal­le­rina body is rav­ish­ing.

Copeland’s images are awein­spir­ing. But the in­fer­ence is that we can all po­ten­tially in­spire such awe. “Danc­ing and Eat­ing Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Grace­ful You” is the book’s sub­ti­tle. This is all about you, my friend — and “the body you’re in is per­fect for you.” Don’t be dis­tracted by that sculpted size-zero beauty in all the photos!

“Rather than com­par­ing your­self to pho­to­graphs,” Copeland writes, “the only vis­age you need to fo­cus on is the one that stares back at you from your own mir­ror.”

Your physique, in other words, shouldn’t “be a replica of your fa­vorite singer’s, ath­lete’s, or movie star’s.” Or dancer’s, one as­sumes. The book may be ti­tled “Bal­le­rina Body,” but that’s not the goal. Wait, isn’t it? Copeland mixes her mes­sages: You’re per­fect — but see how gor­geous I am just pos­ing in my sports bra. “Don’t com­pare your­self to any­one else!” she urges (again), in a book full of al­lur­ing photos of her­self.

One can only ex­pect in­con­sis­ten­cies in prom­ises of shape-chang­ing magic. Like many such health-and­fit­ness books, “Bal­le­rina Body” demon­strates the con­tra­dic­tions in en­treaties about how easy it is to re­make our bod­ies into the con­ven­tional ideal if we just work harder at it. The propo­si­tion that you, too, can look like me if you fol­low th­ese sim­ple steps is se­duc­tive for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. But in ac­tu­al­ity it makes lit­tle sense. Es­pe­cially where bal­leri­nas’ bod­ies are con­cerned. How many of us can see our­selves in Copeland’s ul­tra­thin, highly trained and bendy form?

Achiev­ing that kind of body, in fact, is a du­bi­ous aim, as Copeland’s own ex­pe­ri­ence at­tests. She writes about her painful his­tory of bal­let-re­lated in­juries, bal­let­world prej­u­dice (be­ing told she was “too brown” for bal­let), and the tact­ful but pointed bodysham­ing of bal­let-com­pany of­fi­cials, who called her into a meet­ing after she’d gained a few pounds and told her in bal­let’s code-speak that she needed to drop her dough­nut habit.

Th­ese pas­sages on the phys­i­cal and emo­tional costs of her to-diefor fig­ure are the most com­pelling. Copeland’s jour­ney to be­com­ing the first African Amer­i­can prin­ci­pal bal­le­rina at ABT is poignant and in­spir­ing — and you can read more about it in her 2014 me­moir, “Life in Mo­tion.” Copeland has since taken on other com­mer­cial ven­tures — a Broad­way role, ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, even help­ing to cre­ate a Bar­bie doll in her like­ness. Given her iconic stature, this life­style book was in­evitable.

But the book breaks lit­tle new ground; she in­cludes the cur­rent nu­tri­tion, mind­ful­ness and gen­tle desk-work­out prin­ci­ples avail­able in so many forms. As a dance critic and dance lover, I’d rather that this dance artist spend more time in the stu­dio than at a desk or on book tours. I’m also tak­ing my cue from Copeland’s own words. Danc­ing is her pas­sion, she tells us, mov­ingly, and she has de­scribed how hard she has worked to do it, steel­ing her­self against naysay­ers, painstak­ingly strength­en­ing her­self after nu­mer­ous in­juries and re­gain­ing her lost form. But art is a jeal­ous mis­tress, as the say­ing goes, and bal­let is pos­si­bly the most dif­fi­cult art to fit into a busy pub­lic­ity sched­ule. Ex­cel­lence in bal­let is fleet­ing, and the win­dow to de­velop it is nar­row, while the ar­ray of celebrity diet books is wide.

HENRY LEUTWYLER

BAL­LE­RINA BODY Danc­ing and Eat­ing Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger and More Grace­ful You By Misty Copeland Grand Cen­tral Life & Style. 240 pp. $30

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