We recently shared the news concerning the British Sports Minister Helen Grant's statement
that cheerleading is a sport for "pretty, feminine girls." While not offensive to say that cheerleaders can look pretty while performing, with their cheer uniforms
and done-up hair and makeup, it was offensive for many the idea that cheerleading is predominantly about looks, not athleticism. It also excludes from the sport women who consider themselves tomboys and men. Perhaps most importantly is that, as stated by Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism, "sport should be judged on success at the sport alone, not how you look when you're doing it."
On a popular British news site, The Telegraph, one journalist, Emily Jupp, wrote a statement about the reality of cheerleading. Emily is a former cheerleader and cheer coach and reflects on her experiences to debunk the myth
that cheerleading is just as a glamorous activity and not a difficult sport. She begins by agreeing with Laura Bates' statement, stating, "If you're focusing on looking glamorous while doing a sport, you're probably doing it wrong." Sure, cheerleaders wear a lot of makeup and hair products for a game or competition, but in the heat of a performance, they're not wondering what their ponytail looks like or whether their glitter makeup
is perfectly in place; rather, they're focused on the routine.
Emily says that cheerleading should be for all kinds of women -- the "girly girls" and
the "tomboys" -- and men.
She continues by explaining the benefits of cheerleading, explaining, "competitive cheerleading is the sport that I took part in and coached for a decade of my life and I can't recommend it enough as a fun tool for teaching fairness, teamwork and gender equality at school. Cheerleading is equal to both genders: you can have mixed gender teams that compete against other mixed gender teams at a national and international level. There isn't another physical sport that allows such gender parity. It's also all about teamwork."
And Emily's response to Helen Grant?
"As for the glamorous part, I'm sorry to disappoint, Ms Grant, but it gets pretty messy on the competition floor. You need the stunts to stay up in the air for as long as possible, so if that means you've got a hand gripping tightly to your bum cheek or another cheerleader counter-balancing against your armpit, so be it. Like any sport, it involves determination, stamina and strength. Sweaty clothes, messy hair and -- if you're unlucky -- some battle scars, are all part of that. Whether your sport of choice is running, boxing, curling or cheerleading, performance matters..."
While appearances do matter in cheerleading, particularly at the competitive level, they don't matter more than the actual hard work and performance. There's nothing wrong with cheerleaders wanting to look pretty; however, if given the choice to look
the best or perform
the best, most cheerleaders would choose the latter.
You can read more of Emily's article here
Where do you stand in the debate between beauty and performance? What do you think takes precedence? Or, do you think this whole argument is unnecessary? Comment below.