Whether they use fashion, art or writing, self expression is incredibly important to teens. It builds confidence and a feeling of purpose among young adults. However, some high school athletes are limited in what they can do, due to the rules and expectations of their sport. Cheerleading is an example of these limitations.

Most competitive high school cheerleaders are not allowed to dye their hair or paint their nails before competitions. The team is meant to look ‘together’ as one and avoid clashing colors with their team uniforms. For instance, the rule book for 2020-21 cheerleaders in Pennsylvania’s Lower Dauphin School District reads, “Only natural hair colors and no visible tattoos.” If a cheerleader dyes their hair an unnatural color before a big competition, it could affect the team’s appearance score.

Alex Nash, a former West Hartford, CT high school cheerleader, said she believed the rule is meant to “play into the more natural side of beauty.” She argued that for so long, cheerleaders have been seen as the beauty standards for young women and the “perfect sort of girl.” “Although this may have been true at a certain point, cheer has evolved into a real sport,” she said. “This rule enforces old standards that don’t quite matter anymore.”

She continued, “While I do not agree that cheerleading should be centralized around the look of a team ie. hair and makeup, I do understand using such things for dramatic effects. The fact of the matter is that hair color isn’t, or shouldn’t hurt a team’s scores if participants are dying their hair neon green or a natural brown.” According to Nash, cheer is about much more than looks. Of course presentation matters, especially in competition, but judges should be more focused on the delivery and the energy that the team brings to the mat, not the color of a particular cheerleader’s hair, she added.

In the three years that Nash was a part of the sport, she was affected by this rule. She said that she’d been turned down by coaches after attempting to dye her hair red, which isn’t Nash’s natural hair color. “ But it is still a color that I should have been allowed nonetheless,” she said. 

Whether the coach personally cares or not, it is their responsibility to inform their athletes of it and its consequences, according to Nash. However, do they actually have the power to tell a cheerleader what to do and what not to do with their body? Nash believed that they shouldn’t have that power. It’s a form of self expression, and a change only parents should have an opinion on, she said. 

“You’re only young once,” Nash said. She believed that this rule limits not only self expression but also self exploration and freedom of adolescents. 

As time goes on, and discussions grow, maybe this rule will be reviewed.