The Internet — surely you've heard of it. It's that magical place where mostly-ordinary people become famous in the most absurd of ways. Case in point: high school cheerleaders who just happen to be so Instagram-famous that they have their own fan bases, haters, and scandals. Otherwise known as — I kid you not — "cheerlebrities."
Like you or I would document a nice meal or adorable cat antics, cheerlebrities exhaustively document every aspect of their sport, including their hair, outfits, toned bodies, and incredible athletic skills. This has gotten some of them hundreds of thousands of Instagram admirers, a popular hashtag, #cheerlebrity, and a controversial article from The Wire's Allie Jones.
Thank to Jones's article, I've spent a good several hours going down the #cheerlebrity rabbit hole, and as a result, I'm, jealous, weirded out, and even a little schadenfreude-y at how stalker-y and effusive other people can get about strangers whose social media profiles they like. At the same time, the cheerlebrity phenomenon make sense when you think of it as Bring It On-type story playing out on social media, but with brighter makeup and bigger hair. Even the title of Jones's article, "The Private Lives of the Cheerlebrities of Instagram," does its part to distill the appeal of the cheerlebrity world by making it sound like the pulpiest YA novel around.
Want to join me in the rabbit hole? Here's your intro to the weird, poufy, and utterly fascinating world of Instagram-famous cheer-lebrities.
The Girls (And Boys) of Cheerlebrityland
"Ready for coed practice tonight with the perfect poof and bow from @bowsoflondon !! #bowsoflondon#cclal#poofalicioushair#electrabow."
According to Jones's article, the three most popular cheerlebrities are Gabi Butler, with almost 220,000 Instagram followers, and Carly Manning and Jamie Andries, who both have over 350,000 followers. Searching Instagram myself also led me to other "cheer-famous" users, such as Peyton Mabry (also over 350,000 followers).
The girls run this popularity contest, though. Along with appearing frequently under #cheerlebrity, Butler, Manning, and Andries have their own hashtags with thousands of fan contributions. Such is their power that these girls seem to engage in corporate sponsorship as well, as you can see by the shameless Instagram plugs featured above.
Amateur cheerleaders engaging in endorsements? I hope they're seeing a fair share of that money.
The cheerlebrities' photos feature a lot of the cheerleader aesthetic. That means, as in this photo by Peyton Mabry, bows, bows, and more bows.
But it's not all just giant hair festooned with giant bows. Then there are the photos that show just how athletic cheerleading is as a sport and how skilled the cheer-lebrities are at rocking said sport. Personally, I think the blurriness on this Gabi Butler snap underscores the admiration + the sheer terror I feel when I have watched cheerleading competitions.
The cheerlebrities post the kind of selfies, replete with cheesily earnest inspirational quotes, that you might see on any teenager's Instagram. The difference is that the vast majority of these are pictures of themselves engaging in cheerleading life, from the athleticism of the workouts and competitions to the cheerleader herself in full uniform, her hair teased and sprayed into a perfectly big, be-ribboned ponytail. Showing off one's skill and looks is a major part of acting the part of cheerlebrity.
It's worth pointing that the majority of the cheerlebrities are blonde, in full makeup, even when off duty, and embody that all-American girlness that we have worshipped since time immemorial. In fact, we as a society constantly elevate cheerleaders to the top of the high school food chain. Now Instagram allows that popularity to be spread around to a worldwide audience.
Oh the amount of weird vines I would've dedicated to my high school crushes. #Blessed to have gone to high school in the early 2000s.
Even other cheerlebrities like Erica Engelbert, who posted this photo of Jamie Andries with the hashtag #inspiration, openly fangirl out about their cheer peers.
It delights me to no end to imagine teenage girls getting into Dr. Who because their cheer crush has the same name.
This tweet was also embedded in Jones's article. Apparently, people have even made Youtube tributes to Carly and Matt, like they would for their favorite TV couple.
The most visible cheerlebrity fans are teenage girls themselves, many of whom worship their cheer idols so much that they will make the kind of fan art usually reserved for professional entertainers/celebrities. Like the Twihard or One Direction or Dr. Who fan base, these fans invest themselves emotionally in a cheerlebrity, including shipping cheerlebrity couples as the last photo above shows.
Then there are creeps who post "show those tinny boobs" on Gabi Butler's photos, and celebrities like Lil B, the only twitter person I have in common with Carly Manning (I follow him; he follows her), or Chrissy Teigen, who tweeted recently about having to pull herself out of the cheerlebrity rabbit hole. Because of The Wire article, other adults have joined in on the cheerlebrity movement, even if they are doing so ironically. Yep, it seems like cheerlebrity fandom is gaining all the notoriety reserved for celebrities of the traditional mold.
The Controversy, Or The Mental Gymnastics of the Cheerlebrity
Since reading "The Private Lives of the Cheerlebrities of Instagram," everything discussed above - the fans, the industry, the athleticism, the looks - has coalesced into decidedly non-perky outrage on the part of other cheerleaders and their supporters, with those involved in the cheerlebrity world accusing The Wire of smearing the cheerleading industry with this piece.
The trouble in particular seems to be over this quote, from Gabi Butler:
Gabi says she doesn't focus on her looks when posting photos, although some of the other cheerlebrities do. "I know some of them, like Jamie Andries and Carly Manning on Cheer Athletics. What they're known for is kind of like the hair and makeup and abs," she says, giggling. "I'm kind of like the opposite. Like, I post a lot of videos of me tumbling, hard work stuff, and motivating things."
Detractors criticized Butler of being unsupportive of her peers (of "breaking an unwritten rule," as Jones writes), and of portraying cheerleading as a superficial, looks-based sport. They raised the question of who the true fans are - the Instagram users who follow a cheerlebrity because they think that she should show people her boobs, or the hardcore followers who are part of the industry itself, and want to ensure that cheerleading is taken seriously as a sport.
I think both fandoms (if there is even a true separation between them) have a point. Because why else do cheerleaders wear skirts that barely cover their butts? Why do their makeup and hair have to be impeccable? At the same time, cheerleading is an insanely athletic sport that partly involves girls being tossed into the air at sickening velocities, and it deserves to be admired in the same mold as football or other sports that people pour an insane amount into, even on the high school level. Yet looks do play a part; it seems defensive for other cheerleaders, and the industry's gatekeepers and fans to deny that.
This is why #cheerlebrity is so fascinating, though. It's a manifestation of how much people in this country revere youth and all its trappings (especially physical beauty and athleticism) to the point where thousands of complete strangers will follow or comment on a cheerleader's photo stream. It also uncovers the dilemma girls face in wanting to look good, as well as not be defined solely or primarily by their appearance. With all the pictures, social media likes, fan contributions, and words and emotions spilled over this trend, we might as well call this phenomenon, "Our Cheerlebrities, Ourselves."