Body Image Battles at the Ballet

In a review of the ballet The Nutcracker, the Times dance critic caused a furor by suggesting the ballerina playing the Sugar Plum Fairy "looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many."

On CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, host Howard Kurtz explained the large online fuss over how New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay questioned the weight of several dancers at a holiday performance of the Nutcracker:

Now, dance critics don't usually stir a whole lot of controversy, but Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times has gotten a flood of negative mail for his review of the New York City Ballet's "Nutcracker" for daring to write the following: "Jennifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many."

The Web site Jezebel suggested this was pretty mean, that Ringer's weight is barely noticeable, and not especially relevant. It turns out Ringer, who has talked about her struggles with anorexia and binge eating, was talked into returning to ballet by her dancing partner and future husband, and said, "It was a miracle that they could find a tutu that fit me!"

Macaulay points out that in the very same sentence about Ringer eating sugar plums, he said a male dancer, Jared Angle, seems to have been sampling half the sweet realm. And, well, no one cared, nor did the complainers carp that he said both of them danced "without adult depth or complexity."

Macaulay calls the whole flap sexist, and adds, "If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career."

In my weighty opinion, the critic was within his journalistic rights. I'm sure it was painful to Jennifer Ringer, but she does put herself out there on the ballet stage. And Macaulay did confess that he has his own health issues and had to lose 20 pounds last year.

The offending paragraph was the very last paragraph of a 15-paragraph review.