It's not often that I'm offended by Maclean's magazine. But when it comes to jabs at cheerleaders, I get a bit defensive.
The article was about how the West should take a good, hard look at itself before criticizing China's alleged dishonesty during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games.
"Digitally manipulating images, lip-synching, exploiting young girls: sound familiar at all?" reads the subheading.
But what caught my eye was the cutting comparison to North American "collagen-lipped cheerleaders" as an example of our hypocrisy when it comes to "choreographed … circuses."
Just five months as a Tiger-Cat cheerleader, and I was genuinely offended.
Maybe there are cheerleaders who've blown up their lips or gone under the knife, but I don't know of any. So where do these shallow stereotypes of women come from? I decided to do some simple research. I Googled "movies about cheerleaders" and here's what popped up.
The Cheerleaders Collection box set of DVDs initially grabbed my attention, particularly after reading reviews calling it the first sexploitation cheerleader movie trilogy. Made in the early 1970s, the tagline reads: "They don't 'Bring It On,' they take it off!"
I should also mention that David Hasselhoff is involved.
After that, I scrolled past Ninja Cheerleaders and some titles not suitable for publication on this website. Without delving into the cheerleader-as-male-fantasy genre, I eventually found enough movies to compile the following list.
Common cheerleading fallacies perpetuated by films:
1. Cheerleaders use any means necessary to stay thin.
I went hiking with my friends a couple of hours before the Labour Day game. On the way home, I asked if we could stop and pick up some snacks. Since it was a holiday, only the pharmacy was open. I bought chocolates and popcorn.
Then my friend Kyle said, "Don't forget the ex-lax."
Of course it was a joke, but had I been bringing food to any other group of people, I doubt laxative abuse would have been part of the conversation.
About a month ago, I was at a promo event that served drinks, fruit and cheesecake at the end. One of the organizers was saying how good the dessert was, "But I guess you're watching your figure," he added, chuckling.
I smiled politely and made my way to the cheesecake.
2. Games involve bitter rivalries with other cheerleading teams.
After watching the movie Bring It On, I couldn't help but wonder if passing the other cheerleaders on the sidelines would involve dirty looks and stage-whispered insults as seen on TV.
But when we played at the Rogers Centre, the Argo cheerleaders all greeted us with smiles and wished us good luck. Two of the girls on our team this year used to dance with the Argos, and Coach Lesley knows many of them from previous years. I was won over when they offered us half of their guacamole and quesadilla stash. As my friend Yeehua always says, sharing is caring.
3. Fans are only watching us for the skin.
If this were true, then we wouldn't be met with the barrage of instructions to keep our eyes on the field while walking past the end zone.
"Why are you looking over here? You should be watching the game!" yelled a man through the fence. The Hamilton crowd believes that cheerleaders should pay attention to our team; not just stand in as eye candy for the audience.
A customer at her work recently recognized my friend Shonna as a Tiger-Cat cheerleader. He went on to relate the story of the Winnipeg Grey Cup game where he said he'd never been so proud to be a Ticat fan. Christina, who performed at this game, explained it as her favourite moment of the last four years.
The temperature was "minus who-knows-what" so the squad wore winter jackets to combat the Manitoban winter.
"Then in the middle of the dance we ripped them off, and the entire stadium chanted Hamilton! Hamilton!" said Christina, laughing.
As Shonna described the customer's story, she emphasized how proud he was.
"There were almost tears in his eyes," she said.
These weren't fans reacting to girls taking their clothes off-for them it meant that the cheerleaders were willing to perform to their highest ability despite the weather. I won't deny that sex appeal plays a part in our routines, but dancing with a winter coat on doesn't allow the same movement or properly reflect choreography.
So despite the inaccurate versions of what cheerleading is about, we're there to dance as best we can. That's what it means to be a Ticat cheerleader.