Can we please stop talking about singers and body image?

Yesterday, Classical Singer sent out an e-mail blast requesting responses to a “Health Survey.”  I opened the e-mail knowing that health is very important to singers, who are constantly worried about catching colds, managing reflux, and all kinds of other issues which can affect our singing.  Tenor Jonas Kaufmann recently made headlines when he said that he avoids shaking hands with his fans because eeew!  Germs!

But when I read the survey questions for the article that Classical Singer appears to be planning, I groaned:

– Has the desire to lose weight led you to make unhealthy choices
(i.e. binge/purge, starve yourself, over exercise, use diet pills,
laxatives, fad diets, extreme dieting, etc.)?
– If so, what measures did you take?
– Did those choices affect your singing? If so, how?
– Do you feel that pressures within the singing industry to look a
certain way contributed to your behavior? If so, how?
– Have you ever received treatment for an eating disorder?
– If so, what type of treatment? Was it helpful?

Really, Classical Singer?  Another article about singers with body image issues?  Surely I’m not the only person in Operaland who wants to claw her eyes out every time the whole Fat Singer/ Skinny Singer thing is brought up?

What I hate is that everyone wants to make it seem like this is a new problem for opera singers.  “In the age of HD telecasts, singers have to look the part,” headlines proclaim.  Admittedly, ever since Anna Netrebko first danced on a sofa in a now iconic little red dress, becoming the poster child for a new wave of young, hot opera singers in the 21st century!!!, the furor over body issues among singers has grown, but let’s not forget that sixty years ago Maria Callas was famously rumored to have swallowed a tapeworm in order to go from

Quite frankly, this isn’t a new issue for any woman anywhere, whether she’s a singer or a movie star or an accountant.  Women have always been pressured by society to conform to socially accepted standards of beauty, and they’ve always gone to extreme measures to do so.  Just ask any women’s studies major.

And, yes, it needs to stop.

But if I wanted to read yet another feature about a singer who lost huge amounts of weight, or struggled with anorexia, or was pressured to undergo gastric bypass surgery only to be told after she lost the weight that her singing just isn’t what it used to be, then I’d pick up last month’s issue of Classical Singer, or the one before that, or a recent issue of Opera News, or I’d read Norman Lebrecht’s obnoxious blog.

Now there is one article about singers and body image that I think may still need to be written.  I noticed in the last few weeks that some of my gay friends have been sharing links to articles about body image, eating disorders, etc. among gay men.  In light of the opera world’s “barihunk”  obsession, a piece about men who are going to extremes in order to look like Nathan Gunn or Keith Miller would be an interesting read.

Especially when you consider that women are so often told that they can’t be a believable MiMi if they don’t look like Mirella Freni, while, after a several generations of sitcoms have shown America that beautiful women always fall for fat slobs, Rodolfo so often still looks like Ramon Vargas.



2 thoughts on “Can we please stop talking about singers and body image?

  1. Michael

    Really interesting points, Molly – and I’m happy to have contributed somewhat to the gay side of this. What do you think could be done about this, though? I personally don’t think the body image can be resolved in just the opera singer circle, similarly to how I doubt the issue can be resolved just among gay men. (Actually, though, I think it might be an easier fix for gay men – I still hold fast to the idea that young gay men need role models who are actually gay men. I love Pop Princesses as much as the next gay, but these kids need actual gay role models.)

    Ok, enough of my digression. Basically, what I was going to say is that the issue probably has to be fixed at the source: in society. Not such an easy task.

    Although, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe if the image issue is fixed in all of these other little bubbles it will bring us closer to fixing society.

  2. mollymakesmusic Post author

    Thanks for commenting, Michael!

    Yes, I think that body image issues come from society at large. Basically, it has to do with how much importance is placed on beauty. The solution is to continue to point out how beauty comes in many shapes and sizes and colors. Of course, it’s not easy, and progress will probably take generations.

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