“Hellcats” Cram Session: Cheerleading Uniforms Just Keep Getting Skimpier

Bust out your pom-poms, folks, because it is “Hellcats” night! This CW series about the Wild West of college cheerleading is based on my book, Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders. So, after last week’s episode, I got a hilarious email from a cousin saying that she enjoyed the show but, “Wow, they only have about 10 inches of fabric to those uniforms, total.”Then earlier today, I saw an article about the cheerleading squad at Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Some members of that squad feel so uncomfortable in their new midriff-baring cheerleading tanks that they are presenting a case to their school board to get new ones. “We ask with the utmost respect you do anything in your power to help us,” said one former team captain. “I don’t feel comfortable wearing this.”

“It really hurts our self-esteem,” said another team member.

So the question: have cheerleading uniforms gotten too revealing? If the people wearing them don’t feel comfortable, I’d say absolutely. I especially say this after seeing a new study by a professor at the University of South Carolina that showed cheerleaders wearing belly-baring tops were more at risk for eating disorders. Even though I think it’s possibly the randomest thing to study, ever.

Before I started researching cheerleading, I didn’t have any idea why cheerleading uniforms were so tiny. But I discovered that there is actually a reason for the stomach-baring crop tops. Bases toss their flyers in their air by the waist, and they need the friction of skin-on-skin contact to be able to do a proper throw. Otherwise, it’s just too slippery. Two of the teams in my book wore crop-tops, while one had a slightly more old-school uniform top. In order to do their stunts, bases reached underneath the cloth of their flyer’s top.

Side note: cheerleaders aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen for the exact same reason, even if they’re performing in blazing sun. Sunscreen gets slippery, making it harder to toss people in the air and catch them.

So what about the skirts? I shared with you a few weeks ago that, until World War II, cheerleaders were men. As women became the norm on squads, the uniforms switched from pants to long circle skirts. Lawrence Herkimer, the father of modern cheerleading, is credited with shortening the skirts and making them pleated to allow for flips and more acrobatic maneuvers. Over time, they’ve just gotten shorter.

If you watch cheer routines now, you’ll notice what I call the “skirt tug”—as cheerleaders do tumbling passes, their skirt ends up around their waist (bloomers are important!) and they have to yank it down. Obviously, many cheerleaders hate this. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future we saw cheerleading skirts go the way of the dinosaur, and saw teams performing in matching shorts. Hey, it could happen.

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