Misty Copeland On Overcoming Body Image Issues, Seeing Food As Fuel, And Her Workout Routine

July 27, 2016  |  

In a new interview with The Cut, Misty Copeland talked with the publication about her body, how she fuels it by sticking to clean eating, the way it’s changed the definition of the typical “ballerina body,” and how she even struggled to embrace it as a burgeoning dancer.

“I’ve struggled with body-image issues and finding a way to fit in and create a new path for the typical body type of a ballerina,” Copeland said of her journey to the prestigious American Ballet Theatre. “I’ve had so many issues throughout my career finding the right support — even in something like finding leotards to fit a larger butt. But beyond the physical, I’ve had incredible mentors throughout my career that have gotten me to this place.”

Copeland would go on to laud her first ballet teacher, Cynthia Bradley, Susan Fales-Hill and Victoria Rowell who, during her adult years, helped her overcome her doubts and fears, and Raven Wilkinson, an iconic Black ballerina whose own advancements despite the time period that she found success (the 1950s), influenced Copeland.  “Just to be able to see someone like her who succeeded, it changed my mind as to what was possible for me.”

When asked about her workout routine, Copeland shared that her days consist of practice, eight hours daily, that help her tone and strengthen her body as she prepares for performances. But don’t think that during the off season she’s kicking back and relaxing. She hits the gym, specialized fitness classes and cross trainings like the rest of us to continue to stay in tip-top shape.

“Off season, I take Pilates floor mat classes, Gyrotonic on the Reformer, and run on the elliptical machine for cardio — I don’t use any resistance because I tend to bulk up quickly.”

And whether it’s off season or during the ballet season, Copeland is all about eating right thanks to a pescatarian and occasionally vegetarian diet. She listens to her body to know what to eat and how to eat.

“It’s about taking into consideration everything that you put into your body and really using food as fuel, rather than empty calories that we just enjoy the taste of,” she told the publication. “I eat pretty lean and clean. I cut out red meat, chicken, and pork. I’m a pescatarian, so I eat mainly fish. I go vegetarian on some days as well. I eat what I enjoy, but it’s all about how much I eat. The portion sizes are never too big, and if I’m full, I will stop. If I’m not starving, I’m not going to force myself to eat a huge meal. I just try to listen what my body needs, and it changes all the time. Last season, I craved more protein. Sometimes I need to hydrate more. It’s all about listening to your body and responding to that.”

After speaking further about taking vitamins to keep her bones strong, meditating during private moments to center herself, and how people are becoming more open to the changing body types of ballerinas because of her, Copeland was asked if she ever felt exasperated by being front and center in such conversations. On the contrary, she’s proud.

“It’s something that’s been needed, especially in the ballet world. It’s necessary for me to have a voice and I don’t mind speaking up about it as much as I do, because everyone can witness the positivity in seeing someone who looks different from a typical ballerina. When it comes to race — and that’s something that I’m very open about — a lot of the language that’s used is filled with hidden innuendos to what these people are trying to say. When they tell African-American and minority dancers that they don’t have the right body type, a lot of that is a way of saying that the color of your skin doesn’t allow you to fit in.”

She continued: “It’s amazing to be able to be this symbol to what’s possible in classical ballet and at this level. I don’t think of it as me, but as what I represent and all of the people that came before me that were never given a chance to have the opportunities that I have.”

Gotta love her, and her inspiring work ethic. Whether you’re an aspiring dancer or just an everyday woman working to embrace your body and nurture it, we can all learn something from Misty Copeland and her drive. You go, girl.

Check out her full interview with The Cut here.

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