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Cheerleader tryout tips kerfuffle: A lesson in do's and don'ts

The poster offered a list of 'do's and don'ts' for prospective University of Washington cheerleaders including a 'bronze beachy glow' and 'girl about town lipstick.'

Should appearance matter when it comes to cheerleading? Judging by the backlash over an infographic for cheerleading tryouts at the University of Washington, many feel answer is no.

The poster, for the University of Washington’s cheerleading squad, depicted a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” for personal appearance at cheer and dance tryouts. The desired look includes a “physically fit, athletic physique” and “girl about town lipstick.” Critics slammed the image for encouraging body shaming and asked the poster to be taken down.

The UW athletic department said in a statement that the poster was not intended to be offensive, but that it was removed after the infographic was found to be “inconsistent with the values of the UW spirit program and department of athletics," People magazine reports.

Weight and appearance requirements are de rigueur for flight attendants and in many areas of the food service industry, especially in casinos and nightclubs.

For example, a listing for employment as a casino cocktail waitress at Traditions Spirits in Oklahoma includes the requirement that “employees must maintain the physical appearance necessary for the desired theme.” For women, this includes wearing a full face of makeup and a required hairstyle during every shift. Both men and women at that casino are also required to maintain a certain weight, even after they are hired.

Female servers have objected to these kinds of appearance requirements in the past, going as far as taking their employers to court. But such cases have not always been successful.

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Borgata Casino has periodically been the subject of both union grievances and lawsuits for its appearance requirements. The casino maintains an appearance and weight policy for its waitstaff, including the requirement that they maintain their “hire weight.” Cocktail waitresses at the casino have contended that these policies resulted in a discriminatory work environment. Last fall, however, a state appeals court in New Jersey ruled that the casino’s appearance standards are lawful.

Casino managers have long maintained that their waitstaff are hired to not just serve customers, but to present a prescribed image. Some casinos have gone so far as listing servers' job titles as models to make that clear at the outset. The same argument has been made for professional cheerleaders, who are weighed during tryouts.

The standards listed on UW's poster are not likely new requirements or exclusive to that school, but seeing them on display in a public place apparently struck a nerve with many students. Even though the poster was taken down, it remains to be seen whether the backlash against it will inspire a broader change.

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