Cheerleaders in the news

The Internet appears to have melted down again over the above infographic from the University of Washington cheerleading team. Now I must admit to being bemused by the whole US cheerleading phenomenon, but nothing here seems particularly surprising. Cheerleading is a form of public entertainment combining dance and gymnastics. It relies partly on communicating facial expression to distant spectators (hence the lipstick and false eyelashes). America being what it is, there is often a big emphasis on being “family friendly,” rather than “sexy” (hence the restrictions on makeup and tattoos). Avoiding injury is also important (hence the restrictions on body piercing and jewellery).

Simple cheerleading stunt with “flyer” (top), “bases” (sides), and “back spot” (rear) – photo: “unoguy”

The more disturbing feature of the infographic, at least at first sight, is the requirement for bare midriffs in auditions. This is apparently a technique for circumventing laws against having weight restrictions, by allowing fitness to be judged visually. Different team roles (see above) have different body types, with “flyers” needing to be lighter, while “bases” and “back spots” need to be stronger (see below). A healthy BMI is required in each case. Fitness restrictions are therefore not unreasonable.

I cannot help but think that the US has larger problems right now than the kind of eyeshadow that cheerleaders in Washington state wear. Cheerleaders themselves have far more serious problems than being asked to wear false eyelashes (injury rates, for example, and underpayment). And US universities have far more serious problems than whether their cheerleaders sport fake tans. So I’m still kind of confused as to why this infographic is big news.

For aficionados, the R code for the BMI diagram is:

bmif <- function (kg, m) { kg/m^2 }

invf <- function (b) {
	Vectorize (function (h) { b*h^2 })

regionf <- function (b, clr) {
	f <- invf(b)
	hh <- seq(1.4,2.1,0.001)
	xx <- f(hh)
	hh <- c(hh, 2.1, 1.4, 1.4)
	xx <- c(xx, 200, 200, xx[1])
	polygon(xx, hh, col = clr)

linef <- function (b) {
	f <- invf(b)
	hh <- seq(1.4,2.1,0.001)
	xx <- f(hh)
	lines(xx, hh, lwd=2, col="grey40")

inchf <- Vectorize(function (h) {
	ft <- h %/% 12
	h <- h %% 12
	if (h == 0) paste (ft, "'", sep="")
	else paste (ft, "' ", h, '"', sep="")

postscript(file="BMI_Cheer.eps", onefile=FALSE, horizontal=FALSE, width = 10, height = 6)
par(mar=c(4.3, 4.3, 2, 3)) # c(bottom, left, top, right)
plot(c(40,140), c(1.5,2), type="n", xlab="Weight (kg)", ylab="Height (m)", las=1, cex.axis=1.2, cex.lab=1.5)

inches <- 5*12 + seq(0,21,3)
axis(side=4, at=inches*0.0254, labels=inchf(inches), las=1, cex.axis=1.2)

pounds <- seq(100,300,50)
axis(side=3, at=pounds*0.45359237, labels=paste(pounds, " lb", sep=""), cex.axis=1.2)

regionf(18.5, "limegreen")
regionf(25, "darkorange")
regionf(30, "tomato")
for (i in seq(1.5,2,0.1)) { lines(c(0,300),c(i,i), col="grey80") }
for (i in seq(40,160,10)) { lines(c(i,i), c(0,3), col="grey80") }
labs <- c("Underweight\n(BMI < 18.5)", "Normal\n(BMI 18.5–25)", "Overweight\n(BMI 25–30)",  "Obese\n(BMI > 30)")
text(c(50, 82, 104.5, 125), rep(1.95, 4), labs, font=2, cex=0.8)

names <- c("Cheerleaders\noverall", "Bases", "Flyers", "Back spots")
heights <- c(160.2, 161.2, 155.8, 170.4)/100
weights <- c(57.2, 62.3, 50.4, 63.5)
points(weights, heights, pch=19, cex=1.2, lwd=3)
text(weights, heights, pos=c(2,4,1,3), cex=1.2, labels=names, offset=0.5)


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