Ballet critic takes on the Sugar Plum Fairy’s weight

Need an open forum to mock women’s bodies? Become a ballet critic!

That’s what New York Times writer Alastair Macaulay did, and look how pleased he is with himself now.

So pleased, in fact, that he felt entitled to defend his recent review of The New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker. In the write-up, Macaulay snootily remarked (seriously, it’s like you can hear him chortling and patting himself on the back) that Jenifer Ringer, cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy, “looked as if she’d eaten one sugarplum too many.”

So clever, Alastair. Where do you come up with these gems?

What followed was “a certain brouhaha online, and a minor deluge of reader e-mails, in many cases obscene and abusive,” according to Macaulay (cue The Simpsons‘ Nelson: “Ha ha!”).

Macaulay staunchly stands by his commentary, and wonders why readers failed to pounce on him for his equal-opportunity, fat-phobic remarks about certain male dancers.

Jessica Coen at Jezebel has a pretty good theory:  “…there’s a double standard when it comes to an acceptable amount of extra padding. Men generally can ‘get away‘ with it. And that’s what’s sexist here. Newsflash, I know, but I guess it bears repeating, if only for Macaulay’s sake.”

Right on. In any case, whether Macaulay’s picking on men or women, is it really in his job description to evaluate dancers’ bodies? Shouldn’t he be, you know, critiquing their dancing?

Don’t worry, he’s got a response to that. “If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career. The body in ballet becomes a subject of the keenest observation and the most intense discussion.”

Hear that, kids? Turn in your tutus and abandon your dreams, please. No reason to keep up the pirouettes with those thighs!

Okay, sarcasm aside (who, me?), I do see a glimmer of logic in Macaulay’s argument. Ballet dancers are traditionally held to extremely rigid body standards, and it’s not entirely irrelevant for critics to assess physical appearance in their reviews.

That being said, Macaulay still comes across as a pompous jerk, oblivious to the weight (see, I can pun too, Alastair!) of his words.

It’s bad enough that his dismissive, callous comments will be read, interpreted, and internalized by plenty of aspiring dancers. How about the fact that Ringer, a 20-year veteran ballerina, has spoken openly about coping with eating disorders? Or the reality that, (hellooooo!), she is, by all accounts, extremely thin?

The next time can’t keep your ridiculous comments to yourself, Mr. Macaulay, at least spare your readers the lengthy, ineffective quasi-apology.

— Michelle Konstantinovsky is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and an avid admirer of shiny objects and preteen entertainment. It would be nice if you visited her website: www.michellekmedia.com. Also, she may learn to use Twitter more effectively if you follow her @michelley415.

2 thoughts on “Ballet critic takes on the Sugar Plum Fairy’s weight

  1. That is absolutely terrible:

    “looked as if she’d eaten one sugarplum too many.”

    Hopefully takes a ton of grief for that one.

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