Recently, Misty Copeland, sat down with President Obama and Time Magazine for a thought-provoking discussion regarding the confluence of race and body image and how it affects black girls and women.
It’s a topic she is all too familiar with, considering the fact that both the color of her skin and the shape of her body have had a tremendous impact on her career. Neither has held her back, as she continues to prove that she can, she will, and she is changing the perception of what a ballerina should look like. Indeed, Misty’s drive is just as powerful as her impressive pair of calf muscles.
Since becoming the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater back in 2015, the name “Misty Copeland” has become synonymous with incredible talent, perseverance, and resilience. Her fearlessness and determination to remain true to herself despite any disregard that societal standards have thrown her way make her a role model for black girls around the globe.
The common thread between Misty Copeland and President Obama is clear: they are the first African Americans to transcend the racial barrier in their respective fields. Having such an important platform has created the opportunity for the both of them to have an immense impact on African-American culture—and there is still much work to be done.
President Obama has stood witness to the societal expectations of black women and remarks, “When I was a kid I didn’t realize as much the enormous pressure that young women are placed under in terms of looking a certain way. And being cute in a certain way. And are you wearing the right clothes? And is your hair done the right way. And that pressure I think historically always been harder on African American women than just about any other women.”
Misty has dealt with these pressures firsthand and refused to succumb:
“I didn’t want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the court of ballet. I didn’t want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner. Being African-American has definitely been a huge obstacle for me but it’s also allowed me to have this fire inside of me that I don’t know I would have or have had if I weren’t in this field.”
As she embarks on her first season as a principal dancer, the world will be watching. Young black girls will be watching. And the bottom line is: black girls need and deserve positive role models who show them that remaining true to oneself is more than possible: it’s necessary and rewarding. Black girls need role models who inspire them and relate to them, who encourage the fire inside of them that’s already burning, who help plant and water seeds of confidence and self-worth.
Seeing Misty Copeland in the White House discussing these issues with President Obama forces us to acknowledge our role in this interplay between race, body image, and perception.
Let’s keep the conversation going.