So Misty Copeland’s commercial for Under Armour is the buzz this week. The commercial featuring Copeland who is the first Black soloist for American Ballet Theater, concludes with the copy “I will what I want”. The commercial is somewhat autobiographical since Copeland is not only Black, but started dancing at the age of thirteen, which is very late in ballet terms. With Copeland in motion on-screen, there is a voiceover of a thirteen year-old girl reading a rejection letter from a ballet school. At the end of the letter, it states that she has the “wrong body” for ballet. This message resonates on multiple levels. Women- and women of color in particular- are constantly being told that they have the wrong bodies. The wrong bodies for a particular clothing style or haircut or, perhaps most painfully, the wrong body for a certain man. Ballet is not the only dance genre to send this type of message. Although so-called “street style” dances tend to be more inclusive from an ethnic and racial standpoint, there is absolutely a feeling that to be above a certain weight or to have a certain type of hair texture is a no-no if you want to perform at the highest levels. Dances traditionally performed in gentlemen’s clubs (and now routinely taught at gyms and studios everyday) such as lap dancing, pole dancing, and burlesque also carry that same stigma. If you are what they call “curvy”, it can take a lot of courage just to take these types of classes on a casual basis let alone try to get jobs in those industries.
The attitude carries over into other parts of life as well. On a recent episode of the morning talk show, “The Talk”, one of the hosts Cheryl Underwood, was taken to task by fans for the lip-lock she and guest John Stamos engaged in on the show. Underwood, has a running gag on the show where she crushes on Stamos. When he appeared as a guest, he gamely played along all in the name of fun. Underwood, who is at least a size ten, was reminded over social media in no uncertain terms that men like Stamos do not go for women of her size. Women also have a tendency to resent it when someone they deem not skinny enough or simply not pretty enough, dares to dress or hold herself in a way that emphasizes her femininity. The cost to that woman is often a certain level of castigation– a reminder that she has stepped out of her proverbial “place”. So yes, if you want to be who you feel you were born to be, you must exercise a tremendous amount of will and determination. Kudos to Copeland and those like her who dare to do so.