Misty Copeland’s body-image basics
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.
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