Two-time champion Cheryl Burke is one of Dancing With the Stars’ most famous faces. Bringing home the Mirrorball trophy with contestants Drew Lachey and Emmitt Smith, Burke has almost always landed in the top three every season she competes.
Often vocal on the media’s scrutiny of female body size and shape, Burke clapped back in 2008 when tabloids ran headlines of the dancer putting on weight despite being a slim size 4. When some of her fellow dancers were asked for their opinions, two male pros sounded less than supportive of their co-star.
Cheryl Burke faced body shaming from the media
Before heading back to the dance floor for season 7, Burke took some vacation time in the summer of 2008. Traveling and spending time with friends left the pro dancer little time to exercise, and the paparazzi decided to exploit any minor flaws in her appearance.
“I even gained a few pounds,” Burke wrote of her summer break in her 2011 memoir Dancing Lessons. “For the first time in years, I wasn’t dancing five or six hours a day, six days a week. Star magazine ran a paparazzi photo of me walking on the beach in Malibu… They printed it alongside a photo of me dancing when I was at my thinnest and made fun of me for having gained weight.”
Feeling self-conscious at the start of the seventh season, Burke tried to focus on her routines with new partner Maurice Greene. Yet the media scrutiny and negative comments from viewers continued.
“My publicist, Susan, told me that she’d been getting calls from the press about my weight gain,” Burke revealed. “What really burned me up was that people were saying I was ‘fat as a size four’ – a size four! They were perpetuating the age-old message in Hollywood that you have to be super-thin to be beautiful.”
Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Louis Van Amstel weigh in with their opinions
While the media put Burke’s physical appearance under the microscope, two of her male DWTS co-stars voiced their thoughts on the subject, and not in Burke’s favor.
“(People) look at this show to be inspired and think, ‘If I just work hard enough, I can look like that,” Louis Van Amstel told TV Guide, according to Today.com. “If they watch someone who’s dancing her butt off and she’s still heavy, they can be discouraged. You have to take that responsibility.”
Mirrorball champ Maksim Chmerkovskiy added his own criticism, letting his female colleagues know his view.
“When I first saw these women this season, I said, ‘Guys, you know the camera adds 10 pounds,’” Chmerkovskiy recalled. “‘You have to do something about this.’”
Van Amstel echoed Chmerkovskiy’s statements, adding, “If you want to gain weight, it’s your prerogative. We all put on weight because there was no summer tour. But you have to deal with the consequences.”
Cheryl Burke chose to ‘keep moving forward’
The DWTS star was stung by the sentiments from her fellow dancers, despite Chmerkovskiy and Van Amstel insisting their statements were reported inaccurately.
“Those comments made things a little tense behind the scenes for a while,” Burke recalled. “I was hurt that Maksim and Louis didn’t seem to have my back; they were upset that their comments were taken too ‘literally’ and supposedly out of context.”
Deciding to be a voice for body positivity, the Mirrorball champion clapped back at the media and encouraged women to celebrate all body shapes and sizes. Burke also didn’t hold a grudge against Chmerkovskiy’s and Van Amstel.
“In the end, we all took the high road and moved on,” she wrote. “After all, we were going to see one another all season. I had to let go of any anger so that I could keep moving forward.”
[Correction: An earlier version mistakenly said Burke was a three-time champ.]