The Truth About Cheer Culture (Editorial)


Kirsten Bisconer

Care-free cheerleader shadow.

Haylie Potter, Staff Writer

Bright lights shining, people screaming as you run onto the mat, and the cameras clicking. Jumps, stunts, cheers, and dances are what most think about when they think of cheerleading, but there is so much more in between the lines.

The cheer world is so toxic and unforgiving. The first thing I’m asked if someone finds out I do cheer is either “Can you do a flip?” or, my favorite, “You know it isn’t a sport, right?” The hours of work and practice that cheerleaders across the world put in just to be shoved into a degrading box is unfair. Cheer is often overlooked as a bunch of girls wearing skirts, but in reality, there is so much more to the demanding sport.

 As soon as I started to cheer, the thrill caught me off guard like a cool breeze on a hot summer day, unexpected and definitely needed. The only downside is the physical and mental state you go through once that initial breeze is gone. After cheering in multiple states and 4 different programs, I’ve concluded that the culture surrounding cheer is not beneficial for cheerleaders. 

Cheer is considered a team sport, with participants working together to become a close and successful team. Cheerleaders aren’t supposed to pick each other apart, becoming jealous of the skills they haven’t mastered or pulling each other apart because one is not as good as another.  The competitive aspect is great from team to team, but not between teammates, and the culture of the sport tends to breed resentment.

Though cheer isn’t a contact sport, the danger associated with cheer is extreme. Throwing people in the air and catching them is unnatural and very dangerous. From muscle strains to broken bones, and including serious concussions, there is never a break from getting hurt. On all teams, injuries are brushed away with a simple “shake it off and take a quick break.” Being told to wrap your injury quickly and make your way back to the mat is harmful, mentally and physically. These injuries are just as intense as any other sport, but cheerleaders face constant disrespect no matter how harsh the injury.

All sports contain a mental component, but in cheer you actually get points for perfection, and the unwanted amount of stress is intense. Not being able to hit a stunt or getting a mental block is mind- altering. A two-minute routine determines the entire season, creating an insane amount of pressure, the kind of pressure that leads to blaming yourself for small mishaps and mistakes that were made. This pressure in additional to stress from school, friends, and family negatively impacts mental health. The cheer world forces cheerleaders to be a version of themselves that is beneficial for anyone. 

Additionally, cheerleaders are expected to have a so-called “picture perfect” look with pin straight hair and a small waist. But most people don’t naturally fit the mold that’s been created. The lack of representation in cheer culture is heartbreaking and provides impractical expectations for so many people, especially young girls. Different teams have different protocols, and some can be incredibly damaging. Some big teams have harmful diets and provide a goal weight. Little girls look up to these teams and idolize this uniform standard, and this causes so much harm while growing up.

Famous teams around the world need to start the circle of change. They need to change their protocols and set an example for the tiny teams looking up to them. The main focus in cheer is to win, but it should also be focusing on the well-being and inclusion of all who want to cheer. 

All of the aspects of cheer make the sport unbearable for so many people, but it still has so many people in a chokehold. The focus on “perfection” at all costs hurts those who participate in cheer, and the silence around these issues doesn’t help. Cheer culture needs to change for the better of future generations. The harm done is not irreversible and can be prevented for the future. Cheerleaders and coaches need to address this problem so that when cheerleaders run onto the mat with cameras clicking the smiles are genuine. 

Disclaimer: Articles designated as “Editorial” represent the views and opinions of the author, not the 2021-2022 Periscope staff, CHS/CASD administration, or the CHS student body.