Everything has a stereotype. No matter where you look, you can find a preferred social view that is either accepted or detested by the surrounding community. One that I would like to touch on in particular is the stereotype that encompasses cheerleaders and cheerleading as a sport. Being that I have lived the sport for over half of my life, I am nowhere near ignorant when it comes to the words and images that accompany the thought of cheerleading.
Based on what movies and television have taught us, cheerleaders are expected to be tall, skinny, have long, silky locks of hair that are typically blonde or brown, and have an incredible amount of "pep." On an average day, these perfect models of cheer culture can be found in their school's uniform of choice, including, but not limited to, the short skirts and revealing tops. I can't blame anyone for following this stereotype because that is just what we are taught. Cheerleaders are supposed to be the most school spirited individuals within a five mile radius of any facility containing a football or basketball team.
To further prove my point, simply search the word "cheerleader" on Google images. This is the result you will get:
About 90% of the pictures on the first page of this search display cheerleaders from professional sports teams. In reality, the cheerleaders who accompany the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys are more of a dance team than anything. If you want results displaying competitive cheerleaders who fight for world titles, and train for over 30 hours a week, try searching "all star cheerleading." This is the kind of sport that I am accustomed to, and that I wish more people saw and understood. This is what you will see when you refine your search:
Another aspect of the cheer stereotype that causes some concern for me is that we all have to essentially be 5'9" and 110 pounds. Being 5'1" and definitely not 110 pounds, it worries me that there are girls out there that are striving for unrealistic body proportions because they believe that is what is required of them.
I went into more research about this and was slightly confused with what I found. I was once told that it would be cool to try out for the Detroit Lions cheer team, but having missed the deadline, I decided to just read about it for future reference. Aside from not meeting the minimum age requirement, there were some other topics in the FAQ's that caught my eye. For example, they home page struck me as more of a dance-centered job listing than for a team. Instead of advertising a try out, they refer to it as an audition. They also explain that being a part of the program includes no vocals (this consists of sideline cheers and crowd chants) and no stunting (pyramids, for those who are unfamiliar).
Reading further into the frequently asked questions regarding the program, I found a section labeled "Are there any physical requirements?" The heading alone made me nervous. The first bullet point was all I needed to see. They state that they do not have physical requirements, but go on to suggest recommended expectations. Taken directly from the sheet, the organization states "You should look well-proportioned in dancewear as a lean figure is demanded by our uniforms." Sure, they aren't explicitly telling us that to be accepted onto the team you have to be skinny, but they are choosing their words carefully to insinuate exactly that. If they didn't want there to be a requirement, then they would not have felt obligated to word it in that way. By doing this, it becomes an unspoken rule at the very least. Following is a screen clipping from the requirements page.
By writing this article, I no way intend to criticize the Detroit Lions cheer team or program. As a cheerleader, I feel that it is my job to squash the unflattering stereotypes that come along with the sport. I fully support anyone who was, is, or will be on that team, or any team. I do believe that cheerleaders for professional teams have become more centered around dance and image, though. For all I know, that could be me one day standing on the sidelines at Ford Field. If and when that happens, I know that I will be doing it solely for my love of the sport and not for publicity reasons. Next time you think of cheerleading, maybe try to see it from the perspective of a hard working athlete instead of what you might see as a bottle-blonde girl with poms and a short skirt.