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Video: ‘Fat’ ballerina: ‘I’m not overweight’

  1. Transcript of: ‘Fat’ ballerina: ‘I’m not overweight’

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 8:08 with the fallout over a recent review in The New York Times that called a ballerina's weight into question. We'll speak with the dancer exclusively in just a moment. But first, Natalie 's got the details on this story. Natalie , good morning once again.

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: And good morning again, Ann. Well, so many women feel great pressure to be thin, and for ballet dancers it's especially intense. But now a quip about a "Nutcracker" ballet star implying that she's too heavy is causing a huge uproar. It's a beautiful ballet that's a holiday ritual for many families. In the New York City Ballet production of George Balanchine 's " The Nutcracker ," 37-year-old dancer Jenifer Ringer has a high-profile role.

    Ms. JENIFER RINGER ("Nutcracker" Ballerina Criticized for Her Weight): I am Jenifer Ringer , and I am the Sugar Plum Fairy .

    MORALES: But it's not her performance that has everyone talking, it's this critique by New York Times reviewer Alastair Macauley . " Jenifer Ringer , as the Sugar Plum Fairy , looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many." Ringer has been very open about her past battles with anorexia and compulsive overeating, and the Sugar Plum Fairy remark set off a major uproar.

    Ms. LAUREN STREIB (The Daily Beast): Readers called this comment insensitive, heartbreaking, even cruel because she'd come out in the past admitting to eating disorders and anorexia.

    MORALES: An online fury exploded, attacking the critic. "We thought reviewers were supposed to review the dancing, not someone's stomach," wrote Perez Hilton . "Not cool, man." Many are posting comments defending the dancer with a history of eating disorders . "This made me hot enough to crack a nut in my fist," one wrote. "She has been so open about her body issues and disordered eating and this jerk says something so hateful."

    Ms. STREIB: There was a ton of fuss over this, it's a very touchy subject.

    MORALES: There was such a firestorm, The New York Times even published a

    follow-up piece by the critic where he stood his ground: "If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career," he wrote. It's no secret that ballet dancers have unusually thin frames.

    Ms. MELISSA GERSON (Eating Disorder Expert, Columbus Park Collaborative): Dancers are under incredible pressure to maintain a low body weight , and because of that they're at increased risk of developing eating disorders .

    MORALES: Actress Natalie Portman , who's just five foot three, lost 20 pounds for her role in the current movie " Black Swan " to accurately portray the skinny reality of the ballet world, a world where you've got to have a thin body and an even thicker skin.

    Ms. GERSON: The aesthetic for ballet is not changing any time soon, so it will continue to be essential for success for ballet dancers to maintain that thin ideal.

    MORALES: Well, as far as that reviewer, Alastair Macauley , we reached out to The New York Times and they said the reviews by their critics speak for

    themselves. Ann: All right, Natalie , thank you so much . We've got ballerina Jenifer Ringer now joining us exclusively. Jenifer , good morning.

    CURRY: Good morning.

    Ms. RINGER: The first moment you read that review, when you read those words, what was your immediate reaction?

    CURRY: Well, it made me feel bad. It's embarrassing to see something bad written about yourself in print. So it did -- it did make me feel bad about myself. But, you know, I really had to tell myself that's one person's opinion, you know, out of the 2,000 people that were there that night. So, you know, where I am in my life right now, I was able to kind of move forward from it.

    Ms. RINGER: You didn't expect the reaction, the outpouring, really...

    CURRY: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. RINGER: ...from the public.

    CURRY: Yes, I never -- I never expected it. And I have to say, it's made me feel very loved and supported. To tell you the truth, the outpouring of people that leapt to my defense was wonderful.

    Ms. RINGER: Especially in light of your eating disorder that you suffered years ago. And you suffered it after you had already joined the company, is that right?

    CURRY: Yes.

    Ms. RINGER: Do you believe there's too much pressure on dancers, that they're -- that dancers -- there's a reason why dancers are more likely to suffer eating disorders ?

    CURRY: Well, it is a -- it is a field where our bodies are important, and as dancers we're taught to attempt to try to be perfect in every way, technically and in every way. I think for me, I was in my -- I was 16 when I became professional, and I think I just -- I wasn't prepared to cope with just being in an adult performing world. And so I think that my coping mechanisms kind of turned into eating disorders and body image issues. So for me, I think it was more of a -- of just inability to cope, really.

    Ms. RINGER: So when you see, for example, Natalie Portman in this movie that's going to be coming out, in which she's lost 20 pounds for the role, you can -- it sounds as though you're saying that it sort of is representative of the true pressures that there are on dancers to be exceedingly thin.

    CURRY: Well, I haven't seen the movie, to tell you the truth, so I don't really know exactly what it says. But, you know, it's a -- it's a physical profession. We're dancing all day long. So A, a lot of times when you're dancing all day long -- I'm sure Natalie must have trained like crazy -- so there's a natural weight loss just from working, you know, sometimes eight hours a day. But, you know, if you're -- if you're too thin, really, you can't do the job. And I think that's where people run into trouble. You know, it's -- and that was my problem, you know, when I went through my eating disorders , when I went through some anorexia, you know, you're weak, you can't -- you can't do the job, you can't perform it well.

    Ms. RINGER: So the -- your reaction then to the writer at The New York Times. ..

    CURRY: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. RINGER: ...who basically said that -- he basically defended that if you are in ballet, you know, that you really -- that you should sort of understand that your line, your body is also going to be something that may be written about. Do you -- do you -- do you think that it should be part of the criticism?

    CURRY: I think -- I think that that is a really complex question. As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form. At the same time, I'm not overweight. I do have, I guess, a more womanly body type than the stereotypical ballerina. But that's one of the wonderful things about actually the New York City Ballet is we have every body type you can imagine. We have tall, we have petite, we have athletic, we have womanly, we have waiflike. I mean, we have every body type out there, and they can all dance like crazy, they're all gorgeous. And I think dance should be more of a celebration of that, of seeing these beautiful women with these different bodies all dancing to this gorgeous music, and that's what should be celebrated.

    Ms. RINGER: So do you want an apology?

    CURRY: No. I mean, you know, it's his opinion, and he is a critic and he's paid to put his opinion into the paper and -- you know. And I know as a dancer that I'm going to get criticized, and I also know that, again, there were, you know, 2,000 people probably out there, and so he got to put his opinion in the paper, but everybody else had a different opinion as well.

    Ms. RINGER: This morning you were able to voice yours. Jenifer Ringer , thank you. You're really lovely.

    CURRY: Oh, well, thank you.

    Ms. RINGER: And you're really, I think, in appearing this morning and helping start a dialogue.


TODAY contributor
updated 12/13/2010 10:04:04 AM ET 2010-12-13T15:04:04

A ballerina who overcame anorexia doesn’t need or want an apology from the New York Times critic who made a crack about her weight in a review of “The Nutcracker,” saying the comment hurt initially but is just part of being a professional in a field that demands perfection from those who work in it.

“As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form,” Jenifer Ringer, 37, told TODAY’s Ann Curry during an interview Monday. “At the same time, I am not overweight.”

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‘One sugar plum too many’
Ringer and a male dancer were singled out by critic Alastair Macaulay after he attended a Nov. 28 performance of the holiday classic by the New York City Ballet.

“Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many,” Macaulay wrote in a review published in The Times three days later.

Related: ‘Fatties’ blog sets off online uproar

The comment sparked online fury against the critic by ballet enthusiasts who were familiar with Ringer’s struggles with her body image as a younger dancer.

“Not cool, man,” celebrity blogger Perez Hilton wrote on his website.

Video: Obesity blog post sparks outrage (on this page)

Other bloggers were less gentle, prompting Macaulay to write a second column about Ringer’s weight, his own weight loss, his childhood asthma, a condensed history of weight and ballet as an art form, and more.

“Some correspondents have argued that the body in ballet is ‘irrelevant.’ Sorry, but the opposite is true. If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career,” Macaulay wrote in a piece published Dec. 3.

Ballerina Jenifer Ringer struggled with anorexia early in her career.

“The body in ballet becomes a subject of the keenest observation and the most intense discussion. I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so,” Macaulay continued.

Getting over it
The controversy stung Ringer initially, she acknowledged to Curry on Monday. But in the ensuing days, she drew strength from the support she received from the general public and the dance community.

“It made me feel bad. It is embarrassing to see something bad written about yourself in print. I had to tell myself that was one person’s opinion out of 2,000 people who were there,” Ringer said. “The outpouring of people who leapt to my defense was wonderful.”

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Ringer said that she was forced to deal with eating issues as a teenage dancer. Entering a physically demanding profession at a young age was difficult, she said, and she turned to food for comfort.

“It is a field where our bodies are important. As dancers, we are taught to try to be perfect in every way. I was 16 when I became a professional,” she said. “I don’t think I was prepared to cope with being in an adult performing world. I think my coping mechanisms turned into eating disorders and body-image issues.”

Video: ‘Fat’ ballerina: ‘I’m not overweight’ (on this page)

Over time, Ringer dealt with the pressures that contributed to her eating issues. She realized that in order to be a great dancer, she had to be healthy, not just thin.

“If you’re too thin, you really can’t do the job. You’re weak ... and you can’t perform well,” she said.

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As for the Times critic, Ringer said she is much more concerned about what the thousands of people who saw “The Nutcracker” thought of the performance than one man sitting in the audience taking notes.

“It is his opinion. He is a critic, and he’s paid to put his opinion in the paper. I know as a dancer that I am going to be criticized,” Ringer said.

Video: Readers offended by ‘fatties’ blog post (on this page)

“I know there were 2,000 people probably out there. He got to put his opinion in the paper, but everybody else had a different opinion.”

Contacted by a TODAY producer, a spokesperson for the New York Times said its critics’ reviews speak for themselves.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss: Was it unfair to say ballerina had ‘one sugarplum too many’?

New York Times critique set off a firestorm of protest

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