Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Black Swan


Okay.  So I’m daring to dive into these controversial waters.  And I highly doubt my views will garner much enthusiasm.  And I have no idea why I can’t get the picture of Natalie Portman larger.

But this is the image that I think defines the movie.  Not her thinness.  Not her dancing.  Not her diet before the filming.  Not whether or not the movie encourages eating disorders.

See that crack running down her face?  That perfect porcelain ballerina damaged beyond repair?  That’s what this image represents: the chipping away of the self in what turns out to be a futile effort to be perfect.  The damage suffered at the hands of art (ballet in this case).

Do I think that losing weight as she did is dangerous and unhealthy?  Yes.  But I give her a lot of credit for knowing it was unhealthy and returning to her normal weight and eating habits immediately after filming ended.  Do I think the world of ballet needs to change?  This is a tricky one.  I think that more interventions needs to be in place for those in danger of eating disorders and I think that there needs to be more prevention work and educational work in the field of dance (and gymnastics and ice skating and modeling and acting . . .).  I do not think that the aesthetics of ballet will change.  And I may receive flack for this, but I don’t want them to change.  But there are dancers who manage to live the world of ballet in a healthy way, and that needs to be promoted.

Do I think Black Swan will encourage eating disorders?  No.  Honestly, I think Girl, Interrupted is much more likely to do so than Black Swan.  Black Swan does not glorify in any way the lifestyle of dance.  In fact, it casts it in a very harsh light.  It shows the prices that ballerinas pay for what they do.  It shows the ultimate costs of sacrificing so much of yourself for the sake of art.  If anything the message of this movie is “Don’t follow in my footsteps, because the price I paid was not worth it in the end.”  Especially given the ending.

There’s all this media uproar over ballet right now.  But I dare you to walk into any grocery store, any convenience store, any gas station and look at the tabloids and not see something much worse than what is portrayed in Black Swan. I dare you to turn on your television and watch a movie or a sitcom.  I dare you to read the popular young adult books that get passed around as thinspiration.

I’m not saying Black Swan has no potential to be triggering.  But let’s be honest, there’s not a movie out there that can’t be twisted to become thinspiration.  Some people look for triggers, and when they choose to do so, they will find them in any situation. Blaming one film is the equivalent of needing a scape goat for a much larger problem.

Perhaps the focus should be less on the film’s potential for triggering people and more on discussing ways to help people who are triggered, not just by Black Swan but by common television shows and magazines and books.  What are ways to talk yourself away from the triggers?  How can you counteract them?  How can you express your feelings in a healthy way without reacting to the triggers in a harmful manner?

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December 16, 2010 - Posted by | Body Image, coping, Eating Disorders, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with everything here–except– for the dance aesthetics–which I wish could be more flexible (instead of colluding with a socio-politically constructed dichotomy amid looking “like a dancer” or not “looking like a dancer”). (However, I am not a dancer and never was–so this may also affect my positionality I imagine.)

    Comment by Emily | December 16, 2010 | Reply

  2. Again, however, I enthusiastically echo every other point!

    Comment by Emily | December 16, 2010 | Reply

  3. You are a great thinker and writer. Great points here.

    Comment by Jenn | December 16, 2010 | Reply

  4. –If anything the message of this movie is “Don’t follow in my footsteps, because the price I paid was not worth it in the end.” —

    I haven’t seen Black Swan yet, but this statement reminds me of the controversy of when Trainspotting came out. It took a lot of flack for supposedly glamorizing heroin, but I thought it showed a lot of the ugliness of drug use. I couldn’t understand how someone who had seen the movie felt that heroin use had been glamorized.

    Comment by Rachel | December 16, 2010 | Reply

  5. you say: “But I dare you to walk into any grocery store, any convenience store, any gas station and look at the tabloids and not see something much worse than what is portrayed in Black Swan. I dare you to turn on your television and watch a movie or a sitcom. I dare you to read the popular young adult books that get passed around as thinspiration.”
    I have not seen Black Swan, but I imagine this is true. I’m sure there are things more triggering out there. I believe you when you say that it is about the art of ballet. But why do we ACCEPT that to be true? Just because it may be “less thinspiration” (or whatever someone chooses to call it), does not mean it’s ok. I think that it still shows little ballerinas that if they want to be a “good” ballerina, they should look like Natalie Portman.
    In general, as we know, the media portrays women negatively. But why be ok with that? Even if one is “worse” than the other, I think that we should still strive to see all books, movies, and sitcoms portray women with healthy bodies.

    And I’m not a dancer, and haven’t been a dancer since I was 7 or 8, but I do think the world of ballet can and SHOULD change. I think it can still be an art that requires skill and talent without having demanding expectations of women that are near impossible to measure up to.

    Comment by free. | December 17, 2010 | Reply

  6. I understand what you’re saying here, and agree with most of it… except for one part.

    What do you say to the ballerinas who are in recovery from their eating disorders and are suddenly “not good [thin] enough” for ballet? It’s not as if they’ve lost the ABILITY to dance. They probably dance better now that they aren’t dying… yet they don’t look ‘sick’ anymore. Should they stop dancing professionally or just lose the weight again? I mean, really.

    Comment by anon | December 17, 2010 | Reply

  7. “What are ways to talk yourself away from the triggers? How can you counteract them? How can you express your feelings in a healthy way without reacting to the triggers in a harmful manner?”

    While I do think that we can choose healthier reactions to to the emotions that are evoked when triggered, I don’t think we have direct control over whether or not we are triggered/what emotions surface (I’m not assuming you disagree w/this, b/c you didn’t explicitly say that), and I don’t think it is useful to label thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad” – “healthy” or “unhealthy” – they are what they are, thoughts and feelings which pop up b/c we are human. I do agree, though, that there are healthier ways to express our feelings – we do have control over how we react.

    What has helped me the most is similar to “exposure therapy” – not hiding in a bubble, and actually purposely exposing myself to triggers, and practice HAVING those thoughts/feelings without acting on them (I am aware that this is really hard, and potentially harmful depending on what stage of recovery someone is in). Eventually the triggers lose their power.

    I’m sorry for rambling – and again, I’m not assuming based on what you have posted that you disagree with what I’m saying – I’m just emphasizing what I find to be important.

    And as always, thank you for tackling these subjects and being really blunt and honest. I have learned a lot from your posts, and hope others have too.

    Comment by anon#2 | December 17, 2010 | Reply

  8. Really excellent points made in this post and blog. I mean how related is “not thin enough” with “not good enough”? And note how ballet attracts individuals with perfectionist tendencies.. that become ED’s… it’s complicated! I won’t elaborate in view of all the previous and excellent comments…This is a valuable blog.

    Comment by Dianne | January 17, 2011 | Reply


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