“You’re not the problem, it’s the culture of dance that you have grown up in, it’s also society and the world we live in; your body is not the one to blame.” – Fumi Somehara
Welcome to Part 1 of my mini-series on Dancing Body Acceptance! I had the great pleasure, during my personal “Body-Positive October” celebration research, to talk with Dietician Fumi Sumehara, who is based in Australia. Fumi took time out of her busy day at the DDD Clinic to talk with me about diet culture in ballet and society and ways to promote nourishment and a healthy relationship with eating and body image as dancers, teachers, companies and schools, and others.
A dietician working with dancers & performing artists, dance nutrition and eating disorders treatment, Fumi comes from the ballet world, with a Pilates diploma and experience with body conditioning and body image work. As a student, she experienced an old-school approach of “pure” classical ballet, dancing in Japan and Australia. Fumi describes a lifelong process of body acceptance, with so much to learn and un-learn.
Fumi struck me as a kind, compassionate, and gentle professional as well as a strong advocate for body acceptance in dance and in modern society at large.
This topic is so broad that it’s difficult to tackle in such a brief conversation, but we have collected valuable resources for further learning that I highly encourage you also peruse at your convenience.
My key takeaways from our conversation were that there are indeed clear steps that educators, dance companies and schools, dancers, and others can do to promote body acceptance and a healthy relationship with body and food. Although cultural and dance-specific diet culture and body-shaming norms are strong, we can also empower change.
Fumi Somehara Bio
B.Sc (Nutrition)(Hons) / B.App.Sc (Exercise and Sports Science)
Fumi is the founder and principal dietitian of DDD Centre for Recovery. Her expertise is in Dance Nutrition and Eating Disorders Treatment. She is passionate about supporting individuals to nurture respectful and compassionate relationships with their food and body.
Fumi started ballet when she was five. Throughout her years of training, she experienced first-hand the body shaming and disordered eating practices that were prevalent in the industry. She’s seen the consequences of poor nutrition and body image, including physical injuries, eating disorders, depression, and loss of career. This is why she’s doing the work – to help and support dancers to achieve their best through nourishment.
In addition to her individual work with clients, Fumi lectures Dance Nutrition at Academy of Music and Performing Arts, and is a member of the Eating Disorders Interest Group Leadership Committee at Dietitians Australia, where she supports other dietitians working in this field. She also provides training for nutritional rehabilitation and care in eating disorders treatment for health professionals in Japan.
“We need education on how to talk about bodies and nourishment.”
– Fumi Somehara
Fumi shared that she is in awe of the influence, positive or negative, that teachers can have on their students’ body image and health choices, saying that “good teachers are a treasure you can keep for a lifetime.” She provided practical ideas that educators can apply in their studios or other spheres of influence. Ultimately, says Fumi, this is teamwork between educators, leaders, clinicians, and dancers.
What Teachers Can Do
- Educate ourselves on how to talk about bodies and nourishment in order to create safe spaces in our classes
- Create a positive culture, i.e. say something along the lines of, “My class is a body-shaming free class; we don’t talk about diets or dieting in my class.”
- Use specific feedback for students (rather than “get fit” or “tone up”), such as how to use specific muscle groups properly to improve technique in order to provide clarity to dancers without developing negative body image
- Provide Trigger Warnings: when sharing physical training or other content from creators who have weight loss or other potentially-damaging messaging, give students the option to avoid
- Advocate for body acceptance as smaller-bodied or any-size dancers, intersectional allyship
- Have at least one dietician you can reach out to when you have questions so you don’t have to feel like you’re doing everything yourself, get another professional’s perspective
How to find a compassionate dietician
- Look at their social media, blog posts, website
- Mention or support of weight loss is a no!
- What sorts of images do they share? Inclusive of diverse bodies?
We expect more of ballet companies and schools, and there is a lot that such institutions can do to create a more nurturing environment conducive to healthy body image, eating disorder prevention and recovery.
What Companies/Schools Can Do
- Don’t have clauses in dancer contracts around weight
- Have policies around eating disorders care
- Provide flexibility to attend treatment for eating disorder care, just like any other injury
Fumi greatly admires the courage of dancers she knows who have thoughtfully selected companies to audition for who have good policies on eating disorder recovery and body acceptance.
What Dancers Can Do
- Look for companies that have policies around eating disorders care as they do for injuries
- Read resources on accurate, non weight-loss focused dance nutrition. For those who wonder, “How do I even tell if nutrition information is correct?” (for example, on social media), there are a lot of free dance nutrition resources available on the DDD website.
- Be mindful about Social Media: unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about or question your body, accounts that actively promote the thin ideal. Find more diverse bodies and representation.
- Know your dance history: dance was never about one particular unchanging body size, “ideal” is not timeless.
Dieticians/Nutritionists/Clinicians have a responsibility to use evidence-based information and expand their awareness and there is a lot of work to do in this area
What Clinicians Can Do
- Experience with dancers, eating disorders, trauma-informed care
- Expand your perspective: white-centric clinicians can do more harm than good
- There are a few such (anti-diet, body accepting, dance aware) clinicians around the world, connect with the network
Maybe you’re not a dancer or dance educator yourself, but instead a parent, dance-lover, or audience member. There are still things you can do to promote body acceptance and diversity and to counter diet culture and destructive attitudes toward body image and eating.
What Our Community Can Do
- Support body-inclusive dance companies and schools
- Follow people online who encourage body acceptance
- Become more aware about body image issues: intersectional issue, not just about big or small
- One such “beginner” resource is the “Poodle Science” video about body diversity using a dog analogy
- Learn about nutrition for dancers & athletes, nourish yourself
- Recognize the strength of fatphobia in dance culture and larger society, as if gaining weight is the worst thing that could happen to you. Work to deconstruct your own fatphobia.
Fumi is also developing a social media resource collecting accounts that nurture positive body image and nourishing ourselves, trying to assure intersectionality. No one can cover all the issues, but they’re including coding for different considerations to help make the resource useful to all. The social media resource will be available on DDD’s Resource page soon!
Ultimately Fumi and I agree that the main goal of dance is to be a joyful, life-giving activity. We will continue to work to elevate the conversation when it comes to liberating from diet culture and negative body image in dance and in our communities.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you ever worked with a Dietician? Taken nutritional advice from other sources?
- What is your experience with body image in dance or other areas of your life?
- What is your current relationship to diet culture?
- What do you want to know about body acceptance, diverse representation, and intersectionality in ballet or in dance?
- What would you like to reinvent about your relationship to your body and eating?
Blythe Stephens, MFA & Bliss Catalyst
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A Blythe Coach: move through life with balance, grace, & power
DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.