Huffpost Women
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Margaret Wheeler Johnson Headshot

Stephanie DePierro, Subject of 'A Very Young Dancer,' Reveals Women's Struggle With Failure

Posted: Updated:
Print

At first, the New York Times recent profile of Stephanie DePierro, the subject of Jill Krementz' 1976 book "A Very Young Dancer," seemed a little random, and for its subject, potentially painful. The book hasn't been thrust back into the news, and DePierro, the piece reveals, resisted being contacted. The book that made the 10-year-old DePierro, then a student at the New York City Ballet's School of American Ballet, the idol of ever child with a pair of ballet shoes also became a source of intense shame. After being held up as perhaps the world's most perfect little girl, she was, at age 13, asked to withdraw from S.A.B.

According to the Times, this isn't unusual -- only a fraction of the children enrolled in the school ultimately become professional dancers -- but for DePierro the rejection was apparently so devastating that it shaped the rest of her life. To save face, DePierro told everyone that she had quit -- and maintained that story for years. According to the article, she also struggled with depression throughout her adult life and had trouble choosing a career.

"It's kind of a sad story," DiPierro told the Times. She describes herself in the 90s as "still kind of lost."

According to the Times profile, DePierro seems to have finally found her way. She now lives in Wyoming, is active in her church, and is married to a man who, until he met her, had never heard of "A Very Young Dancer."

So why go through it all again? Why, by cooperating with the Times, reconnect herself to circumstances that caused her so much shame for her for so many years?

I can't know her intentions in agreeing to the interview, but I can imagine that it might be a relief to reveal after several decades that she wasn't really the dancer everyone thought she was. Perhaps she was also showing that younger self so terrified of being found out that there was no need to hide in the first place -- that there was more to her than that failure all along.

DePierro's story is unique for the extraordinary external attention paid to her at a young age, but the way she felt about failing -- for years afterward -- isn't.

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that American young women had fewer "significant failures" at school than young men, but that such a failure made them significantly more likely to suffer a bout of depression before age 21. In her book "Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong," Alina Tugend cites studies showing that women berate themselves more for mistakes and that they blame themselves first, whereas men often blame others first.

It's not surprising then that even a failure early in life can traumatize a woman for years. I would guess that there are many, many women haunted by an early rejection or single mistake, especially when they failed at the thing that at the time seemed to define them, like ballet did DePierro.

When it was published, "The Very Young Dancer" set up an ideal for girls to aspire to, but the story around it -- DePierro's larger story -- points to how much women would benefit if sometimes we let ourselves fail and then admitted those failures. And how damaging it can be when we don't.

What did you think of the Times piece? How do we get better at admitting our failures to ourselves and to others? And how do we move beyond them?