Eat Puke Dance: Black Swan’s Unhealthy Relationship With Food

Darren Aronofsky‘s much anticipated film Black Swan opens tomorrow night. And if you have the stomach for many bloody, aggressive, and violently visceral scenes involving ballerinas, it is an impressively powerful, disturbing movie worth checking out. But after watching the movie earlier this week, I haven’t been able to shake the film’s weird relationship with food and eating disorders.

The world of highly competitive ballet is a scary place. And Black Swan ups the voltage to 11. Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a talented ballerina who pushes herself into dangerous physical and mental territory with a quest for balletic perfection. But the film’s stars also pushed themselves to dangerous limits to get in shape for the film, and that’s something that is hard to overlook while watching.

Both Natalie Portman and her costar Mila Kunis are pretty underweight in Black Swan. But as much as Nina is presented as an out of control anorexic, Mila’s character Ali is her opposite – a healthy, sexualized, happy ballerina. And for a lot of girls, the lack of distinction there could be very dangerous.

As it turns out, there’s a very fine line between intense discipline and psycho OCD inspired eating disorders. And Black Swan jumps back and forth over that line for about two hours.

I’m not suggesting that the actresses have eating disorders. I have no idea about that. But, the ways the actresses prepared for the movie were pretty disturbing. They physical trained for hours a day and ate very few calories. That’s generally how people lose significant amounts of weight from already thin frames.

In the film, the two characters are polar opposites, not two underfed girls. Portman’s Nina is one screwed up chic. She’s probably anorexic. She’s definitely bulimic. Portman only eats once in the movie, and that is when her mother forces her to try a taste icing from a cake.

But Mila Kunis’ character represents everything Nina is not. She parties, has sex, does drugs, and eats cheeseburgers. Which is a bit of sticking point. Adult females who are over 5 feet tall and weigh less than 95 pounds do not eat cheeseburgers.

In fact, Mila made a point of noting this in interviews she’s done since the film wrapped. She tells E! Online:

“After production ended, the first thing I did was go get Panda Express at the airport terminal at Virgin America at JFK.

“Then I landed in L.A. and I got in my car and drove to In and Out and I had a Double Double animal style with a root-beer float; and it was fantastic!”

Mila is now back to her normal weight:

“It took me five months to lose 20 pounds, and it took me hours to gain it back!”

That’s what happens when you eat cheeseburgers. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman’s struggle to lose weight for the film was a little different. How did she lose 20 pounds on an already petite 5’3″ frame? She tells Us:

“With discipline!”

And that’s exactly the trait that makes her character in Black Swan so terrifying. She tries to control every aspect of her life and eventually damages herself, both physically and mentally. Which often happens with eating disorders.

But Portman enjoyed the training that made her into a stick for the movie:

“I think I would do this kind of training again because it’s just so rewarding. It’s always one of those things where, when you put in a lot, you get out a lot.”

Spoken like a true anorexic!

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    • CurlySarah

      While I think most people are slightly aware of what it takes to be a ballerina, I thank you for doing this article. As a ballerina my whole life, I never had what it took to be better than I was, simply because I like to eat too much. In high school, I’d eat one meal that consisted of fat-free cheese on fat-free bread with mustard, maybe a kiwi, and water all day… Unless a ballerina is blessed with a naturally thin, athletic body, we starve ourselves – no amount of exercise while eating a normal amount of calories is going to make us thin enough. It’s a sad world for ballerinas.

    • michaelpittsbabyfat

      Who cares about the eating disorders: WHAT ABOUT THE HORRORS OF THEIR FEET? Quentin Tarantino, for one, should avoid this movie at all costs.

      • Meghan Keane

        And that might have been the one thing that wasn’t exaggerated. I think there could be a whole horror movie genre based on ballerina feet.

    • Shannon

      Very interesting article! I have yet to see the movie but have to admit that I was concerned about how much press this movie was getting, not because it’s good (though that is mentioned) but because of the weight loss the actresses went through. There seems to be an unhealthy relationship between Nina and her self image and I am worried more people will be looking at the movie and thinking about how graceful and good Natalie Portman looks and not the torture the character is putting themself through.

    • Averie Timm

      Interesting article… but it has a few flaws. As a former professional ballerina, I can firmly state that it “takes one to know one,” meaning, unless you have been a professional ballerina, (excuse my french but…) you have NO fucking clue. It is very difficult to, as someone outside of the role, understand what it’s like to have your own body be the blank canvas for procuring art. Yes, it’s unfortunate that the ideal body type for a ballerina is underweight, therefore creating an ideology that catalyzes eating disorders. But it is also part of the art. I don’t suggest to anyone that they start to starve themselves as a professional dancer, but as a former ballerina myself I will admit it is part of the ideology that comes along with being a professional dancer. Unless this ideology is changed within the ballet/dance world as a whole, nothing will change. And unfortunately, most ballerinas nowadays would not consider themselves to have an eating disorder when in reality the signs are overwhelmingly apparent.

      Averie Timm, Village Voice

    • Laura

      I find this whole subject a little bit inappropriate for the generation we live now. I have never done ballet before, so I don’t know how ballerinas act after a show. I do know that so many people today have eating disorders. They look at themselves in the mirror, and immeditely find themselves ‘over-weight’ when they’re actually so skinny. I don’t know why so many people are obsessed over their body image, it’s disgusting. Idiotic. Revolting. Why can’t those people see that they’re beautiful? Absolutely gorgeous. Why ruin such a beautiful person with not eating? It has been a long time, and I have convinced so many people to stop their obsessive non-eating habits because they’re the ones that are making you ugly. Everyone is beautiful, gorgeous, and stunning. And I mean, EVERYONE. Everyone’s beautiful, they just need to understand that.

      • emeelie

        I am sure that you mean to be kind, but I have to correct you on one part to say that anorexia, and other eating disorders, are NOT about being obsessed with their body image. They are mental illnesses, usually sparked by some need for control in the person’s life, not because they want to be thin – yes that can come into it, but not because they are vain people, but because they need to have that control over themselves. As a recoverer from anorexia myself, I hope you don’t mind me making this comment.

    • No.

      I think more people will be inclined to begin eating disorders reading articles like these, that put the idea of it out there, than watching the film. Kunis’s character is healthy, happy, etc. Portman’s character most likely has an eating problem, and she goes absolutely ape s*** in the film. I don’t think there could be a more obvious or less glamorized way to show that eating disorders are not cool, in any way, shape, or form. Much like Requiem, which showed with deadly precision just what can happen from doing drugs, I’d say that Swan leads away, and not towards, the disorder. That is, of course, assuming that the people who watch it have the proper building blocks in place to see it in an intelligent enough light. In a world of Jerry Springer and “reality” TV, I couldn’t be less surprised if people thought Swan glamorized eating disorders. As a nation we’re slowly (or maybe not so slowly) dumbing our children down to the lowest level possible, so here’s what I say… Let’s just go ahead and market it as “Black Swan, a movie about a really good dancer who doesn’t eat and goes crazy! All the cool kids are doing it, you should too!”

      Sometimes, America is so much less than the land of the free. It’s also the land of the dumb.

      • JoJo

        No – Did you read this article? It looks like you are more than fit to live in the land of the dumb.

    • Liz

      A small nit-pick, but it’s certainly possible for a woman to be over five feet tall, weigh in the double digits, and to eat cheeseburgers without throwing them up afterwards. I weighed under 100 pounds for a period of time during high school despite the fact that I was eating cheeseburgers 5 times a week (in addition to multiple sodas, ice cream, cookies, chocolate bars, and other oh-so-healthy staples of my school’s lunch program).

      I’m naturally thin and muscular, but have never dieted in my life. Though I don’t presume to know a lot about ballet, I would assume that a substantial portion of dancers are at that way to begin with, rather than universally having to go through drastic measures to keep their figures (aside from the already strenuous exertion of dancing and training). Perhaps Mila Kunis’ character was supposed to be naturally skinny, but there’s also nothing to suggest she isn’t bulimic. She’s shown doing any number of self-destructive things in the movie, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume it’s possible.

    • Roxy

      I agree, this will only encourage EDs not scare girls straight…
      I know many people with EDs..
      If the actress is 5ft5 weighing 95lbs her bmi is 15.8
      I myself have been anything from 15.4 – 22.2

      I wish i was lucky enough to eat cheese cream and various other refined foods and still be 100 lbs or less…

      Also i think its VERY gudgemental to think people with eating disorders are idoitic.. its a mental illness… neurons in the brain dont link up the way they are ment to.. people can look in the mirror and see a monster looking back at them when really there just bone… the will see the beauty in everyone and everything, except themselves…

      If you havent had one youll never understand, so dont judge, just support recovery…

      I have yet to see this movie, but i shall defently be watching…

    • elizabeth

      “As it turns out, there’s a very fine line between intense discipline and psycho OCD inspired eating disorders. And Black Swan jumps back and forth over that line for about two hours.”

      I’m sure your article isn’t mean to be sensitive, but that comment is incredibly offensive and incorrect. OCD isn’t necessarily part of the pathology of an eating disorder, and vice versa. And neither are ‘psycho.’

      So, as it turns out, there’s a very fine line between speaking out about mental illness, cultural baggage, and image standards for effect, and being insulting and dissmissive of them.

    • I hope you didn’t get paid for this

      Meghan, you clearly did no research on eating orders or ballet for this article so where the hell do you get off on trying to sound like an authority on either? Christ, bring back newspapers and proper journalism.

      • Emily

        Totally agreed. I do not think Nina was portrayed as an “out of control anorexic” at all. And good work on calling mental illness “psycho”, it lends a lot of credibility to your writing.

    • Jocelyn @ Peace.Love.Nutrition
    • gina

      btw – i’m so sick of people saying she is bulimic in this movie! she doesn’t make herself throw up, she’s literally worries herself sick about her dancing! they didn’t show anyone eating in the movie because that’s not the point of the flick!! get your facts straight please…

    • Kate

      I just have to correct you, she is seen having breakfast earlier in the movie. The breakfast is an egg and half a grapefruit.

    • Author1

      Being the Best – Dance, Music, Ambition = exceedingly strong determination & will-power – good or bad / healthy or unhealthy???

      Highly recommended to anyone suffering with / those who know anyone who is or might be suffering from any kind of psychological struggle – particularly severe eating disorders including severe anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa… Totally thrilled to have finally found such an honest account written first-hand and from a sufferers point of view. Allowing the world to join in a journey searching for understanding into personal debilitating psychological distresses here shows innate courage and bravery. The author’s increasing insight into these dreadful illnesses has clearly been gained through absolute love and determination and offers such hope, positivity, enlightenment in many subtle ways that is bound to touch many, many lives. I am recommending this to my friends and family. It is an incredibly feel-good, rounded, refreshing read.

      Angel-Just Rights, by Rebecca Parker
      ISBN 9781849914000

      Available now

    • Holly

      Wow. As a recovered anorexic, here’s my two cents: black swan is a metaphor for any insane quest for perfection. Everyone in Ninas life wants her to be perfect– her mother gave up her career to have Nina and expects her to accomplish what she couldn’t , her teacher only cares about her skills, not her health or happiness, and the rivalry between all the ballerinas is brutal. The former prima ballerina ends up in the hospital because she is now being usurped by younger, skinnier, more agile girls. When Nina pushes herself to the breaking point to be perfect, people get upset with her and tell her to stop. When she rebells from her dedication and goes out with lily, her mom is furious. Nina becomes angry and confused about peoples expectations and wonders why they wanted her to be perfect but now that she’s close they are trying to stop her? This was my EXACT experience with anorexia– teased because of my weight by family and friends, and once I got too close to the illusive double digits everyone tried to force feed me. I dont know anything about the world of ballet, but I think black swan can be applied to many similar situations. P.s.: after the movie I immediately went to the nearest restaurant and ate a huge bowl of pasta in cream sauce, a piece of pie covered in whipped cream, and shunned my boyfriend for siding with Ninas mum when I saw so much of my own parents in her. And no, I didnt puke.

    • wtf lol

      Mila Kunis’ character OBVIOUSLY does not weigh less than 95 lbs. in the movie. Give me a freaking break. Everyoneis just so used to seeing fat @ss people that they assume anyone who is thin must have some crazy eating disorder. And FYI, yes, a thin person can eat cheeseburgers, bacon, butter. It’s called ‘eating in moderation’ and ‘exercise’ – something a lot of people might want to try instead of making ridiculous assumptions.

    • Response

      Please look at the diagnostic criteria for bulimia. A bulimic binges and purges. I never saw her binge and usually when she was vomiting there were other factors.

    • Jennifer

      This is the stupidest article- the movie was to portray the life of professional ballerinas. All professional classicalal ballet dancers are skinny. Every single one.