The Downfalls of Netflix's "Cheer"

Netflix has recently released a new docuseries which focuses on the cheerleaders of Navarro College called Cheer. If you have yet to watch the show that is sweeping the nation bookmark this article, set aside 6 hours of your time, grab some snacks and head on over to Netflix. Just remember to come back to this article after because we are going to be diving into some of the most memorable moments. Now for those of you that have already watched let me just say “Welcome to the ring of fire!!”

 

Let me just start with a heavy amount of praise to the directors, coaches, and athletes that made this incredibly inspiring show what it was. It shows cheer in the real world and for some people, before this show, their only experience with the cheer world may have come from the acclaimed “Bring it On” series. However, by showing us the real athletes who pretty much risk their bodies because they love to cheer this show tackles the stigma around cheer which is of course “cheer is not a sport”. Even if I had not already stood by the fact that cheer was a sport after watching this show it is an undeniable fact. It also shows the importance of having a chosen family. Several of the featured athletes showcased have had familial problems, and you can tell as a viewer that creating their own cheer family has saved them so much. An example of this is the relationship that Coach Monica has developed with Morgan. In every clip of these two together you can feel the admiration that Morgan has for Monica and the love Monica has for her. It is also said several times by the team members how lost they would have been if not for cheer and their chosen family.

Now that we have talked about the beauty of cheer, I would like to more greatly focus on some things that I as a viewer found concerning that are not being discussed as they should. The first issue I would like to focus on is that of the unhealthy weight standards and eating habits shown. As many people know there is the stigma of what cheerleaders are supposed to look like which is a reason that many people do not favor it. Monica herself says that while sometimes, she will pick someone who has the look but maybe not all the skills yet. Although, at the same moment she also says that the talent that those who do not necessarily fit the perfect cheer mold is still important to her. This is why for the reason of body image, I have absolutely no issue with Monica. I do however have a problem with some things said by athletes or their parents. 

 

The first moment is when Morgan is weighing herself and becomes distressed over gaining a few pounds before stating that she is 96.6lbs. As someone who for years struggled with an eating disorder (ED) that comment was incredibly harmful to me and I am sure anyone else watching with an eating disorder or body image issues. Not only is it harmful to show to children, but this is a girl in college who I’m assuming cannot be more than 5’5. That is an incredibly unhealthy weight for her considering how it affects her Body Mass Index (BMI). In other words,  this athlete is probably considered underweight, and most likely at almost extreme state. As a former athlete who struggled with an ED, I know for a fact she is doing irreversible damage to her body and putting her team at risk. The same sentiment is shown when the show's resident “Cheerlebrity” Gabi Butler’s mother is shown on the phone telling her to consume something to quell her appetite. Once again as an athlete of her caliber doing the type of physical activity that they are doing this is so incredibly toxic and downright dangerous. Not only that but girls with ED watching this have just gotten another way to fuel their unhealthy habits. We have to do better when it comes to how we represent health in the media. Gaining weight is not a problem for these girls because I can almost guarantee you that extra weight will be muscle. Honestly, there are so many other aspects of Ed that I could go on about, but that is for another article. 

In addition to ED, these athletes are worked to the bone so much that they risk injury and frequently get concussions or much worse. This comes with the sport, however, everyone knows the risk that they are putting themselves at with the activity they have chosen so my problem is not that injuries occur it is the way they are dealt with. To showcase my point, I’ll use TT throwing out his back (Episode 3) as an example. Monica was aware he hurt his back and as a punishment for him disobeying her direct order had him fully participate. TT is a base for a single flyer and that takes an incredible amount of strength. Not only does he have to protect himself, but also his flyer and the entire team. I know that this only happened in one instance, but it sets the tone for other athletes that even during injury they need to push through the pain, which is not acceptable and could lead to further injury. This is shown again in Morgan’s case (Episode 5) with the injury of her ribs. This unhealthy standard is present in several of the athletes making them risk serious injury.

 

My final problem with Cheer is how they portrayed Lexi as a person throughout the series.  I noticed little things that they showed Lexi doing that were not shown for anyone else such as her vaping. I’m sure several of the other members on the team vaped but it was never shown. To me, it felt like they just wanted to push that “ troubled kid” trope. But when you go through all the stories, they show us that all of these kids can be considered “troubled”. Almost all of them have had some circumstances that could have led them down a very dark path, but they don’t focus on that for anyone as much as Lexi. Even in the end when she is kicked off of the team, they show old footage of her going to a rave to insinuate that since being kicked off of the team she has fallen back into her “old ways”. Lexi herself has shown discomfort at this portrayal in interviews, saying that is not what she was doing. She was also disappointed that they made raving seem like a toxic environment. Though the producers do need to create story arcs to increase viewership, it seems that they forgot that these are young people who have lives, and these portrayals have consequences outside of the series.

I wholeheartedly believe that despite its downfalls, Cheer is an incredibly inspirational and beautiful show. However, I feel as though greater care should have been taken by producers in what they put out into the world. Not only does some of it perpetuate the stigmas that have been present regarding the cheer world for years, but it also almost glorifies these things. Because EDs, young athletic injuries, and stereotyping have all been huge news stories of the recent past, I would expect Netflix and it’s producers to have more nuanced ways of presenting these issues. Now that is not to say that if there was a second season, I wouldn’t watch it because I definitely would. But if this content is not viewed critically, I believe we as viewers need to speak up so that they hear us and see that we do not condone the behaviors they are portraying.