The Cheerleading Nationals Look

Cheer MakeupEven though I’ve been to Nationals several years running, I’m still blown away by the meticulous attention to detail female cheerleaders put into their hair and makeup.

The average female cheerleader spends 2-3 hours perfecting these things, which is a lot considering that the judges mark scores from more than 100 feet away. Teams tend to have a specific look—on some teams, all the women will have curls, others will all do low ponytails, and I even saw one team here last year who had matching cornrows.

For SFA, the women do enormous curls—they individually hairspray each strand of hair before wrapping it around the barrel of a curling iron. For makeup, the look is sparkly eyes, usually combining 2-3 shades of technicolor glitter. They also go for intense blush and bright lipstick. It’s almost like Kabuki masks—every feature is exaggerated to the highest degree.

Sometimes I’m bothered by how much appearance counts in cheerleading. I remember at tryouts at the University of Memphis, I was shocked that when I analyzed the scoresheet, “look” was the single item that earned squad hopefuls the most points. “I’d rather look at someone who’s cute and boring at a game,” their spirit director explained. At Nationals, the “overall impression” category lets judges score teams partially on appearance alone. Teams also receive scores for facial expressions—hence the winks and head bobs you’ll notice if you watch a competition. Overall, cheerleading is a sport where normal I’m-not-pretty-enough-feelings are put in a pressure cooker. (And don’t even get me started on cheerleading and body image—I’m saving that for another post.) At this point, cheerleading has evolved into something close to an extreme sport and it takes a high degree of athletic skill. So I can’t help but think that cheerleading would benefit tremendously from letting go of this focus on beauty.

But on the other hand, I appreciate the honesty of it. I remember reading a study in a psychology class where college students (male and female) were asked to grade their peers. They subconsciously gave much higher grades to women who fit the traditionally-attractive mold. And I can think of so many fields—flight attendants, newscasters, even women’s magazine editors—where beautiful women seem to go far, yet it’s assumed that appearance isn’t a factor at all. At least in cheerleading it’s right there on the scoresheet. Everyone knows the playing field, right?

What do you guys out there in blog-land think?

Read much more about CHEER! here.

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