Misty Copeland talks about going through puberty at 19 and how it made her gain 10 lbs., leading to criticism from her dance teachers

By Julie Mazziotta
March 23, 2017 12:16 PM
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These days, Misty Copeland is a body-positive icon, admired for the athleticism, strength and dedication it takes to become a professional ballerina. But she didn’t always have such a firm grasp over her body image.

By age 19, Copeland was dancing for hours each day but still hadn’t hit puberty. Concerned that her bones were getting overworked with each pirouette, her doctors advised Copeland to start taking birth control to jumpstart the puberty process. Unfortunately it also brought weight gain. As Copeland recounts in her new health and wellness book, Ballerina Body, she swiftly gained 10 lbs.

“I had an ideal body at the time for ballet, so when it all changed I lost this grasp on the control I had over my body,” Copeland, 34, tells PEOPLE. “It was very difficult to be experiencing so late in the game, when I was already a professional dancer, to understand and kind of reassess how to take care of myself and how to approach what I do from a different point of view.”

“To put on 10 lbs. in a matter of months was, I think, unhealthy for my body as well as my mental and emotional state. It was not something that I would recommend,” she says, laughing.

Misty Copeland
Courtesy Under Armour

“I understand what [the doctors] were trying to do,” she says. “But it was not something that I was prepared for in any way.”

The sudden change also led to not-so-subtle hints from her instructors to “lengthen out.”

“It was a lot harder hearing from the staff that I needed to lose weight. I had never heard those words used with me,” Copeland says. “It took a lot of nurturing, and people who said, there are healthy ways of doing this, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t shape your body to be its healthiest self.”

RELATED VIDEO: Misty Copeland Opens Up About Her Lasting Friendship With Prince: ‘I Know He’s So Proud of Me”‘

For more on Copeland, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now. 

And now Copeland feels better prepared to deal with criticism.

“I think that all we can do as humans is be our best self,” she says. “And for me, I just feel like it has nothing to do with me — it has everything to do with the person who’s doing the criticizing.”

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