This University's Cheerleading Guidelines Have Gone Too Far

Photo: Courtesy of University of Washington Cheerleading.
Like most college athletes, cheerleaders at many universities are bending over backwards to prep for team tryouts this week. And for most, that means grueling days filled with split lifts, thigh stands, and pike baskets, among other stunts.

As if being launched into the air, folding your body into a fetal position at the peak of the toss, and unfolding into a cradle landing isn’t challenging enough, team hopefuls for the University of Washington cheerleaders have another feat to nail for the big day: a ridiculously Eurocentric beauty regimen.

In a Facebook post shared last week, according to The Seattle Times, prospective squad members are instructed to attend tryouts having also mastered a “bronze, beachy glow,” “false lashes,” and “girl about town lipstick” (which could be alluding to MAC's shade by the same name, but if not, we have no idea what that even means). On the list of makeup don’ts? “Nude lips,” “dark, smoky eyes,” and “harsh lines/contours/colors.”

Additionally, one’s body should be “naturally tanned” or “spray-tanned,” and should not reveal tattoos or “distracting fingernail polish.” Hair should be curled or straight, and worn down with plenty of volume, not slicked back or worn in a pony — which makes perfect sense for a sport in which you’re risking life and limb with intense acrobatics, no? And god forbid one should wear attire that covers the midriff.

The post drew immediate backlash on Facebook and Twitter, bringing the university to task for prioritizing image above talent and suggesting Eurocentric beauty norms as a must-have for athletes. These guidelines seem to assume that no women of color are cheerleaders — what the hell, University of Washington? For a place dedicated to higher learning, this is a beyond dumb move.
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We think UW student Jazmine Perez, director of programming for student government, said it best, as she told The Seattle Times by email: “I can’t believe this is real. One of the first things that comes to mind is objectification and idealization of Western beauty, which are values I would like to believe the University doesn’t want to perpetuate. As a student of color who looks nothing like the student in the poster, this feels very exclusive.”

The Seattle Times noted that the university cheer team has since removed the posting, explaining that the guidelines were simply posted as a response to student queries. Upon review, a spokesperson for the athletic department said the school had “determined that some of the details and descriptions provided were inconsistent with the values of the UW spirit program and department of athletics,” according to The Seattle Times.

The University of Washington isn’t the only college cheer squad to post such “advice” ahead of cheer and dance-team tryouts. (The Washington State University cheer team, for one, offered a similar graphic.) But U-Dub’s strangely Eurocentric emphasis, on top of pageant-like beauty standards, feels grossly out of date, particularly for a rigorous sport that in recent years, has worked to prove its athletes are more than pretty faces. Noted one Facebook commenter, “When I was a cheerleader, we worked so hard to be considered a sport. This infographic goes against what we fought for. We don’t ask the same of any other athletes.”
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