Texas Cheerleading Lives. Unfortunately. By Mariah Boon

Texas, as you may know, has some urban not-so-much-legends about cheerleading moms driven to mayhem by their sense of vicarious competition. From what I have seen and heard regarding cheerleading in Texas, there are some more widespread problems about which to be concerned.
The ten-year-old daughter of someone I know recently joined a cheerleading "squad" that competes with other squads across the region, and on up the cheerleading food chain. The gym that sponsors the squad has focused heavily on competitive cheerleading in recent years. "Their" girls always make it to Nationals, so parents beg, borrow and fundraise to obtain this cheerleading training, along with the required trips and paraphernalia, that keeps their daughters on the winning team. The child I mentioned is on a squad made up of first- through fifth-graders.
This little girl is required to wear tarty make-up and fake hair during her competitions. Telling us about her daughter's uniform fitting, the child's mother described how the gym's owner told the person measuring the then nine-year-old child that she wanted the fabric to "just cup the butt cheeks". The suit is low cut, as well. None of this information, however, prepared me for the practice video that the proud mother showed me. In the video, little girls as young as six were choreographed to stand with their backs to the audience, then throw vampy looks over their shoulders with their arms tucked behind their heads to highlight their as yet non-existent bosoms. Worse yet, the most frequent move of the routine was one where the girls stood with their backs to the audience, their arms behind their heads, and shook their behinds at the audience just as deliberately as they could. I am told that this squad's routine was one of the less suggestive ones at their recent competition. Shocking. Well, maybe not.
Few parents in our society seem to believe anymore that what is appropriate for older people is not necessarily appropriate for young children. Most of the mothers of my six-year-old daughter's friends talk about "Britney" as though she's the totally-acceptable-media-for-other-people's-kids choice, much the way I would talk about children's programming on PBS. Kids are allowed to watch all manner of adult content on TV long before they are even seven. What Texas cheerleading has become is just the next step.
The cheerleading moms argue that this is a sport, and will earn their daughters money for college. I say that true sports do not dress their athletes up like items for sale, and that some ways of earning money are, well, immoral. But, the moms argue, cheerleading is important to their daughters. I can tell from the looks on the children's faces that this is true, but it should not have been allowed to become so. As parents, we have a responsibility to steer our daughters clear of interests that will endanger their development into strong, healthy women. No one will do it for us.
The bottom line is that if children are dressed like sex objects and taught to act like sex objects, people are going to treat them like sex objects. In fact, the children might start thinking of themselves that way, and might value themselves for that alone. Teaching little girls to stake their self worth on qualities that are fleeting sets them up to feel worthless when those qualities fade. Dangerously low self-esteem, with all its consequences, could be the legacy of Texas cheerleading. Let us hope it will not be. I want our daughters to be strong.