Case Study: David’s Story

David loved to dance and by the age of eleven he was enjoying modern, jazz, ballet and tap. Of course he had to wear a clingy lycra leotard for several of his dance classes which didn’t bother him at all until some of the girls in his class started commenting that his tummy was starting to stick out. In addition his teachers seemed to be constantly commenting on David’s posture and telling him to pull his tummy in. One day after a dance class David announced to his mum that he felt fat. His mum was horrified. David was anything but fat. He was fit and healthy and a great dancer. David told his mum about the comments from the girls and the teachers. He felt under pressure to do something about his growing physique. His mum was well aware of the dangers of teenagers becoming wrapped up in body image and so ensured she kept a close eye on her son’s eating and exercise habits. She constantly reinforced the message that it was really important to have a balanced diet and not to become obsessive over exercise. For a while David repeatedly commented on his “fatness”. He started to avoid certain foods, although this never became a really big issue. His mum was slightly more concerned about David’s increasing focus on body image. He talked about developing a six pack and started doing repetitive exercise, particularly sit-ups. David’s mum continued to reinforce the message that it was really important to have a balanced diet and not to become obsessive over exercise. If David didn’t eat enough he wouldn’t have the energy to dance and if he over-exercised he might suffer an injury which would stop him dancing. Gradually David became more accepting of his developing frame. It certainly wasn’t interfering with his ability to dance well and he learned to ignore the comments, which after all, were actually few and far between. Four years on David is still enjoying dancing with a group of young people that have been together for a long time. He could have succumbed to the intense pressure often put on young dancers to restrict his diet and maintain an artificially low weight, but he didn’t. This story has a powerful message. David was under undue pressure to lose weight at the age of eleven, but with the support of his family he stayed healthy. It could have been a different story and it is a sad fact that young dancers, both boys and girls are vulnerable to developing eating disorders. The Eating Disorders Association is working together with Dance UK to increase the awareness of the risks facing young dancers of developing eating disorders.