“Disgusting” and “ridiculous” emails show the body image pressures musicians face

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Victoria Leone
Source: Sheraton Cadwell Group/Vimeo

When a recent study suggested musicians may face a higher risk of eating disorders, it came as somewhat of a surprise. Aside from famous pop singers, most people don’t think of musicians or vocalists as a group who faces extreme standards for their public image.

Obviously, this isn’t exactly true. Instrumentalists or singers in any genre are often expected to look a certain way and there is an implicit pressure for musicians – particularly female performers – to maintain a body shape that can often be unrealistic and even unhealthy.

This was made shockingly clear recently when a group of Canadian musicians received an email criticizing performers who were not “physically fit and slim” for what they wore onstage in a performance.

After a recent show, performers working with a volunteer Toronto orchestra received an email from the orchestra’s management saying: “…although almost all of our vocalists are fit and slim — the way our boutique orchestras would like our front line artists to be — two of our featured singers were not.

It goes on to say that these performers should dress “in order to not bring attention to their temporary physical/dietary indulgences.”

The performers were understandably disgusted by the email.

“It came as a shock. It rather drew the blood from my face the first time I read it,” singer Sydney Dunitz told CBC Toronto.

Singer Sydney Dunitz
Source: Google+

Another highlighted just how impactful it can be to receive statements that explicitly criticizes those who don’t match the desired body type.

“The first thing that came to my mind when I read it was, ‘Is this directed towards me?'” said Victoria Lenoe.

The statement received swift public backlash, with many offering support or saying they’ve experienced similar things in their careers.

In the fallout from the message, the managing group that sent out the email has disbanded. Unfortunately, this likely means the end of the orchestra as well.

This isolated incident is heartbreaking in many ways, but it should be noted that it is not as far outside the norm as you may think. While managers and booking agents may not explicitly make statements about body shape or image, musicians are well aware that the expectations are still there.

In an ideal world, performers would be given work and acclaim based wholly on their skills and abilities. However, many who are not within the “ideal” size say they experience difficulties maintaining employment performing and face criticism within the industry.

“It’s disgusting, it’s ridiculous and it has nothing to do with our vocals,” said Dunitz.

Some may try to argue that issues like these are “just business”, but they can have a real human toll. As Dunitz recalled, “Some people have spoken up and said the email affected them and they deal with weight issues and self-consciousness.”

Given the recent findings from Marianna and Stephanie Kapsetaki, both of whom are also musicians, it is likely that at least one member of the Toronto orchestra has experienced an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Statements like they received can be potentially triggering and have lasting effects on their health.

It is a step forward that we can see the email as inappropriate, but it is important to remember it is just the tip of an iceberg that makes often music more about image than ability. Until that is rectified, musicians and performers are likely to continue to be an at-risk group for disordered eating and unhealthy body image.

Body shaming and criticizing people’s appearances can do more than hurt people’s feelings. They can cause serious emotional trauma and trigger feelings of worthlessness, body image problems, and issues with depression that can have a lasting effect on a person’s life. If you struggle with any of these feelings, call Brookhaven now at (888) 298-4673 to speak with someone who can help. 

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