Ballerina Misty Copeland is no stranger to the spotlight. As a professional dancer, she practically lives in it. And recently, she got to share the spotlight with some pretty serious company: President Barack Obama.
As American Ballet Theatre’s first black principal dancer, Copeland has quite a bit in common with our nation’s first African American president. Both were born into multiracial families and were raised by single mothers, and both have risen to the top of their respective (and super competitive) fields.
The two recently sat down together for a Time interview and talked about everything from body image to the pressures young women face today.
“As the father of two daughters, one of the things I’m always looking for are strong women who are out there breaking barriers and doing great stuff,” the president said after they sat down for the interview. “Misty’s a great example of that. Somebody who has entered a field that’s very competitive, where the assumption is that she may not belong.”
Here are five things Copeland had to say that totally blew us away.
1. On being a role model
“It couldn’t be more positive for a young black girl to see that it’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to not have to transform and look like what you may see on the cover of a lot of magazines. That you are beautiful, that it’s possible to succeed in any field that you want to, looking the way that you do. I think all of that is so extremely important and something that I’m constantly celebrating.”
2. On accepting her body
“Having a platform and having a voice to be seen by people beyond the classical ballet world has really been my power. It’s allowed me to say, It’s okay to have a healthy athletic body…. And I think that being in this position and showing that I can execute and do all of these things that it’s possible to have any skin complexion, to have a healthy body image for the ballerina body. I think it’s given me more of a voice.”
3. On all that pressure
“Being the only African American in almost every environment in terms of classical ballet weighs on you and it wears on you after a while. I feel like a lot of it is what I’m kind of putting on myself. And [I’m] just trying to not get too caught up and too wrapped up and too weighed down with being black, and am trying to just be the best person and the best dancer that I can be.”
4. On race
“Being African American has definitely been a huge obstacle for me. But it’s also allowed me to have this fire inside of me that I don’t know if I would have had if I weren’t in this field.”
5. On feeling comfortable in her skin
“I didn’t want to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit into the ballet. I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want to have to wear makeup that made my nose look thinner. It’s important with this generation of young minorities, children especially, to feel comfortable and confident in their skin.”
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