Self-Esteem in Adolescent Ballet Dancers

At the ripe age of four, my mother enrolled me in a ballet class. However, unlike most other children who eventually move on from their toddler ballet days, a fiery passion was ignited within me. I continued to dance for over twelve years; devoting hours to training, rehearsals, and on-stage performances. However, as I reached adolescence and hit my natural growth spurt, I noticed an increase in difficulty performing movements I had already perfected. Though I was always reassured by my instructors that this was very normal, I couldn’t help but feel that my changes in body shape challenged my confident self-image, as ballet emphasizes the importance of a slim figure.

Upon further research concerning the construct of self-esteem and its relation to adolescent dancers, I stumbled upon a plethora of published studies concluding that juvenile dancers are at a higher risk of distorted body perception leading to low self-esteem and possible psychopathology in extreme cases (Bettle, 2001). For example, in a study performed by Dr. Killion and Dr. Culpepper of the United States Sports Academy, 29 dancers, 12 control, and 10 fitness cohorts’ where tested for body image perception and eating patterns. The subjects were asked to fill out a physical activity questionnaire, record their body fat measurements, and complete the MBSRQ-AS, EAT-26, and the Stunkard Figure Rating-Scale (Killion, 2014).

The Physical Activity Scale is a self-report questionnaire allowing subjects to rate their general activity over the last 30 days (Killion, 2014). The Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ-AS) is another self-report questionnaire measuring the subjects’ self-attitude toward the body image construct. This is measured by assessing contentment towards body appearance, fitness, and health (Killion, 2014). Furthermore, EAT-26, the Eating Attitudes Test, is a 26 question test measuring dieting, bulimia and food perception, and oral control in order to distinguish between participants with anorexia and bulimia nervosa, binge-eating, and those without disordered eating habits (Killion, 2014). Lastly, the Stunkard Figure Rating Scale is a scale depicting nine silhouettes of increasing size, from very thin (silhouette 1) to very obese (silhouette 9). The subjects were asked to choose which silhouette represented their “self-perceived body size” and “ideal body size.” Thus, a body size discrepancy index was quantified by subtracting the self-perceived body size from the ideal body size (Killion, 2014).

Stunkard Figure Rating Scale (

Knowing that all these psychological tests performed were reliably consistent in their results over many trials and valid in reproducing accurate results concerning the constructs being tested (Killion, 2014), it was determined that dancers scored considerably higher on the “Appearance Orientation scale” compared to their control and fitness cohorts. Additionally, all dancers, even those with low body fat percentages, viewed themselves as overweight, revealed disordered eating patterns, and emphasized the importance of their physical appearance (Killion, 2014).

Body image perception is a complex construct intimately affecting the North American population as a whole. However, it is possible to conclude from the above study that adolescent dancers are more frequently affected by negative body image compared to their control and fitness cohorts (Killion, 2014). Because I was so deeply immersed in the dance community once upon a time, this issue resonates strongly with me. I cannot stress enough the importance of instructors who focus on performance rather than physical appearance and who take an active interest in understanding and helping their dancers with body image misconceptions.


Bettle, N. “Body Image and Self-esteem in Adolescent Ballet Dancers.”National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2001. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. <>.

Killion, Lorraine, and Dean Culpepper. “Comparison of Body Image Perceptions for Female Competitive Dancers, Fitness Cohort, and Non-Dancers in a College Population | The Sport Journal.” The Sport Journal. N.p., 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. <>.

Thompson, JK, and MN Altabe. “PSYCHOMETRIC QUALITIES OF THE FIGURE RATING-SCALE.” Web of Science. Thomson Reuters, Sept. 1991. Web. 25 Jan. 2016. <>.