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Real Talk On The Beauty Standards in Ballet

Destiny Wimpye talks carving out a space for yourself.

On Beauty
Real Talk On The Beauty Standards in Ballet

Welcome to On Beauty, a series where we take a deep-dive look into one person's relationship to beauty, how that relationship has transformed over the years, and how they experience being seen. This week, we're talking to ballet dancer Destiny Wimpye, who recently teamed up with Hourglass Cosmetics for its We Glow campaign that highlights the beauty of connection. Below, 19-year-old Wimpye gets real about ballet beauty standards, a different kind of shade matching, and finding your people.

Before [ballet] I did hip hop, jazz, and modern [but] I knew what to expect when I started going to a school that specialized in ballet. I was prepared to not see many other Black dancers but that motivated me. I knew I wanted to be someone people could look up to. I’ll be the only, or the first, so people can see [what’s possible].

Growing up, Misty Copeland was a role model. [Like Copeland] I also have [larger] breasts and [I’ve] struggled with it since I hit puberty. One year I looked one way then the next year, I looked completely different. I was also treated very differently [after puberty]. There’s a specific aesthetic that’s pushed onto ballet dancers and body type is a part of it. I think it contributes to this image that ballet dancers aren’t really human. It’s also part of why ballet is seen as elitist, right? Maybe more people would come to the ballet if they saw someone on stage who looked like them.

There’s Vaganova ballet [which is more classical] and Balanchine ballet. Respect to Vaganova dancers because they do a lot and that style of ballet is difficult in a lot of different ways, but in my opinion, Balanchine is more exciting, a bit quicker, and more upbeat. I also liked that I saw muscles on the [Balanchine] dancers; they weren’t all really thin. I thought that Balanchine would be more accepting of me, the type of body I have, and the way I dance.

Another aesthetic thing about ballet is that it’s pink, pink, pink. For most of my ballet journey, I was wearing pink tights and pink shoes. To be honest, I didn’t want to stand out too much so that held me back from ever wearing brown tights and brown shoes. I tried pancaking before, which is a technique a lot of dancers use to make their shoes match their skin tone, but only when I would dance with bare legs. To pancake, you take a drugstore foundation that’s a bit darker than what you’d use on your face, and when you apply it on shoes, it stains.

I remember Freed, the [ballet shoe] brand I wear, reached out to me when they started making brown shoes. My mom really pushed me to try brown. There was another dancer at my studio who wore brown and I thought they looked amazing. When I asked them about it, they said oh my god, they make your lines look so much better, you have to try it. That’s the point of pancaking: the lines of your body are so much cleaner and longer when your shoes match your skin tone. Eventually I realized I needed to embrace who I am, so Freed fit me [for shoes]. And you know what? It did make me look better. Honestly, now I think the goal should just be for everyone to wear [shoes] that match their skin; pink doesn’t really match anyone.

[Given] the nature of dance, especially ballet, it’s hard to find support from your peers when you’re dancing together every day and trying to get the same roles; it’s very competitive. I started living in ballet dorms without my mom when I was 13, and I only realize how crazy it sounds when other people ask about it. It was an adjustment, for sure, but I felt prepared to be independent. My mom is a single mom, and very independent herself. I want to move and explore even more, whether that’s touring with a ballet company, or being on Broadway. That’s just how I was raised.

All of that being said, there’s definitely more camaraderie than rivalry in ballet. I did Swan Lake not long ago, and I really felt [a lot of] support. I try to be around my friends in the dressing room for at least 10 minutes before [the show] starts to get my energy up. The wardrobe people are very supportive too; [they] just want to make sure we’re comfortable. You don’t want to be in a space [where people are] telling you to lose weight or that you don’t fit the bill. It doesn’t matter what you look like. What kind of artist and person you are is what matters and a [dance] company that understands that is where you want to be.

Part of the series:

On Beauty

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