Perfectionism and Body Image in the dance industry... Help me kickstart vital research!
Updated: Oct 10, 2022
If you've read my first blog post or seen my
profile on Instagram, you'll know that I was a
dancer for most of my life. I still am a dancer, and always will be. Without my time training and working professionally, I would never have gained the experiences necessary for creating this blog and going after my dreams. I hope to one day support dancers in training, but also apply my understanding of body image in dancers to help anyone chasing health and fitness goals.
The positive flipside to my own perfectionistic tendencies is that I do have a bit of an obsession when it comes to studying. To put it mildly... So, I was incredibly excited to be able to dive into my own research project during my final year at Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance. My intention was to produce a piece of work that could inspire positive change within the dance industry, so I decided to focus on the subject closest to my heart. Now I'm sharing it with you all, my first step in getting my research out there!
Will you support me in spreading this message?
I would love to generate enough exposure for my research to eventually gain the funding needed to put my dissertation into practice. Every read, like, comment and share on my blog will contribute to this endeavour. If you would like to play a part in my work towards bettering the dance, health and fitness industry please do leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post. I can't wait to chat with you all about your thoughts on my work and your personal experiences in health, fitness and dance!
The dangers of negative body image and perfectionism in the dance industry...
The body image pressures and negative perfectionistic tendencies that dance students experience all too frequently result in significant psychological and physical health issues. These issues can persist throughout a dancer’s career. Environmental contributors to negative body image and perfectionism, such as role models and audition processes, may be out of the control of individual dancers. So, it seems important that dance students learn how to manage perfectionistic tendencies and develop a healthier relationship with their bodies before they enter the professional industry.
So what could be done about it?
I proposed integrating Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) techniques to combat the negative effects of negative body image and perfectionistic tendencies in vocational dance students. Some students may need to be referred for clinical treatment, but this should be acknowledged and actioned more readily. There is much more research needed before an intervention that is backed by scientific research and practice can be developed. However, funding and implementing such an intervention could enable dancers to enter the professional world with greater freedom to explore their physical and artistic capabilities.
What are CBT and ACT?
While I was attending counselling, my therapist Martin Dewberry used elements of CBT and ACT to work on my negative body image and perfectionistic tendencies. They have definitely helped me on my way to recovery from Anorexia Nervosa and are skills that can be applied to so many different mental health and wellness challenges.
CBT is a second-wave behavioural therapy which focuses on changing negative behaviours and feelings by restructuring
negative thoughts . There are numerous studies suggesting its effectiveness at improving body image , treating perfectionism in non-clinical populations [3,8], and supporting athletes with perfectionistic tendencies .
ACT is a third wave ‘mindfulness-based, values-directed behavioural therapy’ . It has been shown to effectively improve negative body image  and negative effects of perfectionism .
Ask me anything!
It would be a pleasure to answer any questions you have about what you've read, whether you want to talk technical or chat about how negative body image and perfectionism has affected you. The full dissertation is a bit of a long read but I've linked the document here:
A special thanks to my tutor
I would like to say a huge thank you to The Dance Psychologist, Dr Lucie Clements for her coaching and support in writing my dissertation. She's incredibly knowledgeable, experienced, and also super friendly so please do go and check out her work here. I can't wait to work with Lucie again!
Ciarrochi, J. Bilich, L., and Godsel, C. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a mechanism of change in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Ruth Baer (Ed.) Assessing Mindfulness and Acceptance: Illuminating the Processes of Change, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, CA, pp. 51-76 [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223996406_Psychological_flexibility_as_a_mechanism_of_change_in_Acceptance_and_Commitment_Therapy
Farrell, C., Shafran, R. and Lee, M. (2006) Empirically Evaluated Treatments for Body Image Disturbance: A Review, European Eating Disorders Review vol.14, pp. 289–300 (2006) [online] Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/erv.693
Handley, A. K. et al. (2015) A randomised controlled trial of group cognitive behavioural therapy for perfectionism, Behaviour Research and Therapy 2015, 68, pp. 37-47 [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005796715000303
Harris, R. (2007) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout, Psych. Med. [online] Available at: https://thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/2007%20Introductory%20ACT%20Workshop%20Handout%20-%20%20Russ%20Harris.pdf
Hill, A. P. (2016) The Psychology Of Perfectionism In Sport, Dance And Exercise, Routledge
Ong et al., (2019) A randomized controlled trial of acceptance and commitment therapy for clinical perfectionism, Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 22 [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333138375_A_randomized_controlled_trial_of_acceptance_and_commitment_therapy_for_clinical_perfectionism
Pearson, A. N., Heffner, M., Follette, V. M. (2010) Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Body Image Dissatisfaction, New Harbinger Publications
Zikopoulou, O., Nisyraiou, A. and Simos, G. (2021) A Randomised Controlled CBT Intervention for Maladaptive Perfectionism: Outcome and Predictors. Psychiatry International, 2 (3), pp. 287–299 [online] Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/psychiatryint2030022.