University of Washington Cheerleading Infographic Stirs Up Social Media Outcry
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on May 6, 2016 at 12:27 pm
Tips on how to wear your makeup, style your hair and the type of body to possess aren’t things you would expect to learn on a college campus. But would-be cheerleaders at the University of Washington learned that and more late last month when University of Washington’s cheerleading team posted advice on their Facebook page days before cheerleading tryouts began.
The infographic titled “W Cheer and Dance Tryout Look” showed a picture of a blonde, white woman in a sports bra and shorts surrounded by tips including everything from having a “bronze, beachy glow,” to wearing “girl about town lipstick.” The backlash was swift and the infographic was quickly taken down. But the sting from this and similar infographics can be felt on college campuses around the country, with critics arguing the images advance old ideas about women that many hoped were long gone.
“The infographic sends the message to women on college campuses that they are only worth what they have to offer in terms of their physical appearance/attributes,” says Vanessa Sampsel, a campus outreach specialist at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. The message is that “If women cannot adhere to strict body stereotypes with regard to hair, size, shape, weight, clothing selection, make-up, they fall short and are considered inadequate,” she explains.
This sentiment is echoed by UW student and director of programming for student government Jazmine Perez who told the Seattle Times, “One of the first things that comes mind is objectification and idealization of Western beauty, which are values I would like to believe the University doesn’t want to perpetuate.” And, she explained that “as a student of color who looks nothing like the student in the poster, this feels very exclusive.”
UW cheerleaders aren’t the first to put forth old stereotypes
The University of Washington cheerleaders aren’t alone in posting questionable infographics with advice on appearance ahead of cheerleading tryouts. Washington State University Cheer posted a similar infographic on its Facebook page giving advice on the color of lipstick and hairstyle to wear. And, Louisiana State University cheerleaders posted an infographic on Facebook, but like the UW image, it has since been removed.
Lost in both of these infographics was anything about skill and ability, two things required to be a successful cheerleader. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive and beautiful,” says Catherine Hill, vice president for research at the American Association of University Women. But, “It [the infographic] stresses that physical beauty is more important for cheerleaders than their athletic prowess,” she says.
Some of the public outcry on social media targeted this particular point, the infographic’s non-focus on athletic ability. One female commenter wrote on Facebook, “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. And really no ponytails??”
Infographic ignores cheerleading’s athletic demands
According to a 2012 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “From 1982 to 2009, cheerleading accounted for 65.0% of all direct catastrophic injuries to girl athletes at the high school level and 70.8% at the college level.” Catastrophic injuries are defined as closed-head injuries, skull fractures, and/or cervical spine injuries resulting in permanent brain injury, paralysis, or death.
In 2013, Cynthia LaBella, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Washington Post, “This [cheerleading] should be considered a sport, and these folks should be treated as athletes, not as entertainers.” A University of Kentucky HealthCare newsletter echoes this sentiment with hard figures, noting that “In 2005 the NCAA insurance program found that 25 percent of money spent on student-athlete injuries resulted from cheerleading, despite the fact that football players far outnumber cheerleaders. The rate of cheerleaders to football players is 12 to 100.”
It appears though that even with the weight of medical research and increased athletic demands on cheerleaders, the University of Washington cheerleading infographic reveals that the stereotypes have not changed.
The quick removal of the infographic has demonstrated that the public outcry on social media was effective in sending a message to the University of Washington, and other schools like it, that perpetuating old stereotypes about women and the cheerleading sport are unacceptable. “If schools know their student body won’t accept this sort of messaging and the students take a stand against it, schools won’t want that sort of bad publicity. No university wants to deter prospective students or turn away their existing ones,” Sampsel tells GoodCall.