Welcome to Talking Body, a series where we have honest conversations with women about their bodies. Today, we have Michaela DePrince, soloist with the Dutch National Ballet and the new face of Jockey’s “Show ‘Em What’s Underneath” campaign. She first gained fame in the hit dance documentary First Position and has since used her platform to share her story of survival: Amidst Sierra Leone’s civil war, she was abandoned at an orphanage for her vitiligo as a child but, after getting adopted and moving to America, she stopped at nothing to become a ballerina. Here, she talks about the body image pressures ballerinas face and how she learned to embrace her skin condition.

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I’ve always wanted to be a role model and my main goal is just to inspire young women and to let them know that it’s okay to love their flaws. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be unique and to embrace it and to just love yourself.

I’m not super confident in my body, but I am a ballerina, so of course, we tend to have a better figure. The thing is for me, I’ve accepted the way I look and I don’t think what anybody says is gonna change what I think my body should look like. I’m not going to let somebody make me feel bad about the way I look. [Ballet] has made it harder to be more comfortable in my body because we are making sure that every single thing that we do is perfection, and every little detail–every muscle, every finger, even your eyelash–has to be in the correct place. I’m exaggerating. But, I think ballet also gives you this power to be very confident and to realize how much power you have. You can move someone without talking.

I’ve definitely felt pressure [from ballet to look a certain way]. I remember one time I was in Amsterdam before I moved there. I got the stomach flu, so I lost about five kilos [11 pounds]. And I came back and was accepted into a company because they liked how my body looked. But, I had no energy. The fact that they didn’t like my body with five more kilos on it, obviously [made me realize] that’s not the place for me. Sometimes places will support even anorexia. They might say they don’t, but you see dancers who stop eating and nobody says anything to them and they start getting praised for being “in shape” is what they call it. I think it’s very sad. Our body is our job, it’s our tool to be able to dance, and we shouldn’t butcher it.

I don’t cover up my spots, I don’t try to hide who I am


I’ve always had support from my family so whenever I’m going through something really bad, I just call my mom or I call my sister. They really help me realize not to be so down on myself or not to let somebody else’s influence make me feel bad. When I was younger, I had my first performance, and I think this is what was able to help me not hate the way I looked: I asked my mom if she could see my [vitiligo] spots from where she was in the audience when I was on stage and she said no. She lied, I found out. But because of that, it gave me the confidence to think, okay, I can become a ballerina because my spots are not gonna stop me and people are not gonna hate how I look on stage because of my spots. I’m really grateful she did that. That gave me the confidence to push on and to work hard.

I think [my spots] make me very unique and I really used to hate it. People recognize me and they also really like the fact that I don’t cover up my spots, I don’t try to hide who I am. And that’s the most important thing: to just be who you are. Love your flaws. Love the scars, love the things that have happened to you, bad things or good things. Because those are the things that are gonna make you stronger, those are the things that are gonna make you strive. Love your body because your body is unique and you are unique and nobody else is like you.

I think beauty is flaws. Beauty is the way somebody can talk to you, the way somebody can make you feel. The way somebody’s presence is, when you see them or when they’re around you. Beauty can be so many different things and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the way somebody looks. I find beauty in the way somebody uses their hands when they’re dancing or the way somebody looks at you when they’re talking to you. That’s beauty to me. And beauty is just being truthful and honest.

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