Commentary: The Beauty in Having the Wrong Body

Misty Copeland’s powerful reminder that we’re amazing no matter what anyone says.

Posted: 08/06/2014 12:54 PM EDT

The ballet world has never been known for its fair treatment of dancers. Stories abound about the cruel ways young girls are told that their feet, breasts, calves and weight are the reason why they are destined for dance world failure. And yet it is still a shock to listen to the athletic gear company Under Armour's new commercial in which a narrator reads a letter intended for a young Misty Copeland to let her know exactly why she would not be accepted into an academy. The rejection details all of her physical “imperfections” and includes the line, “You have the wrong body for ballet.”

The wrong body. Although few of us have ever had anyone tell us so directly that our body wasn’t right, nearly all of us have felt that we would definitely be rejected if we wanted to be on TV, in a magazine, a music video, beauty pageant or anywhere that gets to cast women based on appearance. Those places make it really clear that what they are looking for is a uniform look of tiny in certain places and curvy in others. They don’t care if you look that way because of nature, surgery or even dangerous dieting, and they also don’t care that this narrow definition of “right” leaves most of us on the side of wrong.

Here’s the great thing about that Misty Copeland commercial, though. As those depressing words are read, she is the only person in the shot, with camera closeups on her legs and feet, then full body shots as she leaps and turns and kicks across a stage. The commercial ends with the tagline “I will what I want.”

In total contrast to the words of the rejection letter, there is everything right in this body we are watching. It is strong, it is powerful and it can do amazing things with confidence. Its beauty is so obvious that no one needs to state the other obvious fact: that whoever wrote that letter was a damn fool blinded by narrow ideals.

Copeland was lucky, she found her place in a world that had initially rejected her, and now she is a soloist at the American Ballet Theatre, the third African-American woman to have this position. Her successes on the stage are her own singular triumphs; but her success in not accepting that she was all “wrong” from head to toe is one that we can all share in — we just have to fight hard to believe that our bodies, beauty and abilities can not be dictated by anyone other than ourselves. Forget being like Mike, we could all stand to be like Misty.

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(Photo: CARLOS SERRAO for Under Armour)

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