Cheerleading – A Sport or A Beauty Pageant?

At a recent 2-day competition we attended this weekend, all those hairspray fumes got to my head and got me thinking. Power Cheerleading is definitely a sport to those of us who are involved in it – we know how hard we sweat, condition, bruise, and endure pain to get to where we are, making flying through the air seem easy and defying gravity in tumble passes and pyramids. But to an on-looker who is unfamiliar with all this, the athletic aspect might seem to come in second.

I was telling one of my non-cheer friends about how I had to get a spray tan, spend two grueling nights in a row sleeping on curlers in my hair, have half of my top vision cut off and my eyes burn due to fake eyelashes and eyelash glue, and spend 45 minutes each day carefully applying competition make-up (which, as you know, involves a lot of glitter and bright red lipstick), and she (rightly so) exclaimed “Wow, sounds more like you’re going to a beauty pageant!”. Hmmm. Well, coupled with the giant bows on our heads, and shiny, skirted uniforms, competitive cheerleaders probably look like anything but serious athletes.

Think about it. How many other athletes wear bows on their heads and have to curl their hair or have the privilege to even wear their hair half-up-half-down? For a bunch of people claiming that we work harder than football players, we certainly don’t look the part. It seems to me that too much attention is being put on looking pretty at competition, while not enough is placed on hitting a flawless routine. Gymnasts don’t even tumble with their hair down, and certainly don’t wear so much glitter on their face, that they resemble incandescent lamps from far away. While there are other sports where looking pretty is required, (like figure skating or synchronized swimming), cheerleading is the only one that is still plagued with stereotypes. Putting such extreme efforts into appearance within our sport only confirms the existing stereotypes of cheerleaders to people unfamiliar with what we do (which sadly is a pretty large chunk of the population).

Don’t get me wrong, as a cheerleader I do enjoy getting primped for a performance, but I’m just saying it’s becoming rather on the extreme side. When people ask me “Why do you have to get a spray tan for cheer?”, I’m really not sure what to answer. Uhhhh….because we are a vain little bunch and strive to look hot in our itsy bitsy midriff exposing uniforms? I try and make up something like “If you’re too pale you look washed out in the bright lights and you really stand out…”

While this is true, at the end of the day, when you go out on that floor, the most perfect curls and the longest lashes in the world won’t make a difference if you hit a bad routine and have stunts fall. Judges almost never comment on makeup or tans on score sheets. Putting so much emphasis on your athletes’ appearance makes them unfocused, and adds to their worry. Having to worry about things like your eyelash falling and hanging off your eye mid-routine, or your hair getting stuck on your face while performing, is stressful. Instead of focusing on hitting sharp motions and sticking stunts, athletes (especially younger ones not used to it) can easily be distracted by wardrobe, hair, and makeup malfunctions.

It’s not really the coaches’ fault – it’s the way the whole industry is set up. Hair down shouldn’t be allowed, and fake eyelashes really won’t make a huge difference from 50m away (regular mascara will do just as well). The fact that our uniforms still involve skirts 100 years after the birth of ¬†original cheerleading, is a little ridiculous, considering the sport’s advancements in athleticism. Take away what you want from this article, but consider that if we are to break up the stereotypes of cheerleaders being ‘ditzy, hot, dumb, bitchy, and vain’, we should probably ease up on the ¬†Barbie factor at comp.

Cheer on!

-Mina

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