Fat shaming in ballet: “Who says there’s one specific body type for sport?”

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Chloe Elliott went viral on Twitter after she shared a video of herself dancing en pointe. She received fat phobic abuse for taking part in a sport that trolls claimed was not for her. Here, she tells Strong Women’s Chloe Gray about why she’s not going to stop dancing anytime soon. 

“Because of the sheer size of you, you’ll never be able to go on pointe (sic),” the direct message said. 

I’d been sharing ballet content on my Instagram page for a while, which culminated in me fronting a Nike campaign last February. The images of me training with a professional ballerina won the Blogosphere Fitness Influencer Campaign of the Year award, so it was a huge success. But it also opened me up to a whole new audience – the traditional ballet and dance community. I found it was a world of criticism like I had never experienced before. 

I have always love dancing. I love the fluid movements and how ballet makes me feel delicate when, as a plus size woman, every other aspect of society tells me that I’m not. 

Yet I have never felt welcomed in the dance community. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, but I never went to typical dance schools because I’ve always found the experience horrific. The girls I was in classes with were just not welcoming of a body like mine in their classes, and even today I get the feeling that the women in classes don’t want me to be there. I’ve only ever actually been to around 10 classes in my life because of how awkward they are, which is a shame. 

Instead, I dance at home, following YouTube videos. It’s so much more comfortable to dance by myself and, although I’m not getting the tuition that I need to make my turnouts better, I’m not feeling self conscious and I can actually focus on doing the class.

On top of that, ballet and fluid dance movement has been a saviour for me over the past couple of years as I was diagnosed with arthritis in 2013. This has caused a lot of pain and has made it really difficult to play serious sports, but delicate movements help to ease the arthritis side effects. But it’s also about personal achievement: I love the boost of seeing myself improve, so I started filming videos of my training and putting them on Instagram. Then other women started telling me that it also gave them a boost, seeing a woman who looks like them dancing. 

Which brings us back to that DM. I now get a lot of comments on videos of me dancing, saying that I should care more about my health. The irony is never lost on me that I’m trolled and fat shamed for exercising. These people do not care about my health, they care about the fact that I am deviating from the ideal that exists in the dance world. I’ve found the dance industry to be exclusive, unwelcoming and fat phobic, and I feel like it horrifies people that someone of my size, who is not seen as delicate or beautiful, could engage with their sport.

Maybe this sounds stupid, but being told I couldn’t go en pointe made me want to do it more. That night, I bought that pair of pointe shoes. When they came, I went to my bedroom, put the shoes on, put my phone on the floor and took a video. Then I posted it to Twitter and Instagram. To be honest, I thought really nothing of it. When I woke up the next day it had 100,000 likes then 200,000, then 300,000, then 400,000. The hate rolled in, too: people were saying that I didn’t deserve the shoes, that I had to earn them. It’s was so bizarre. 

I think that sizeism is ingrained so deeply in dance’s culture and people believe you have to be a certain size to pursue it, even as a hobby. Trolls told me that I shouldn’t do it, to go and do something else because I didn’t have the right body for it. Who started the rule that there’s one specific body type for the sport?

I’d like to be positive and say that I think the dance industry will look different in the future, but unfortunately I do think that there will always be someone with something to say. While we have seen fat activism come on leaps and bounds, dance is a very traditional industry and I think it’s harder to change. 

Even in society as a whole, we still have such a long way to go before we can all accept that the amount of respect that you give someone shouldn’t be dictated by the size of their body or if you find them attractive or not. Unfortunately, every single plus size content creator I know has been trolled, and particularly those who, like myself, share content of themselves exercising. But because of this hate, it does mean that the community has become closer and stronger. I have been overwhelmed by support from the people that follow me. I’ve never received so many messages of kindness before, and it’s something I’ll never forget. 

I get so much inspiration from following women like Julia Del Bianco, the most graceful plus size dancer. I want to be a similar source of inspiration for other women, so while the relentless trolling did make me consider quitting at one point, I realised that I’d be stopping for the wrong reasons. I’ll keep posting my dancing online because we don’t see bodies like mine often enough, and that’s where I think that the stigma has come from. When a woman messages me to say that she has started dancing again because of me, I cheer. 

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).