A blog post by junior Kelly Ryan in response to a cheerleader who tweeted a photo of a tank top that said “#TeamSkinny” went viral this week, creating a flurry of angry responses about body image across social media.
Ronnie Stone, a junior who is the cheerleading chaplain and creator of the shirts, said the cheerleaders will no longer wear the controversial tank tops.
“Our shirts that we made weren’t to make someone else feel bad about themselves,” Stone said. “It wasn’t meant to offend anyone.”
Stone said she came up with the idea during a strenuous cheer practice to make the #TeamSkinny tank tops as encouragement for the group. The cheerleaders have tryouts in three months for next year’s team, Stone said, and the shirts were intended to motivate them to maintain their weight.
Kelly, a communication studies major, initially responded to a tweet posted by a female member of the cheer team that included a picture of the #TeamSkinny tank top.
In response to the photo, Kelly tweeted: “Is this a joke?” A male cheerleader then replied to Kelly with a tweet that asked: “Do you have friends and or a life?”
@chandlerjordan3 is this a joke? Or did you actually waste money on shit like this to be an embarrassment towards our school?
— Kelly Ryan (@thisiskellydood) January 25, 2014
The male cheerleader also responded to Kelly’s twin sister, junior Ali Ryan, who tweeted that the shirts were “idiotic.” The male cheerleader’s tweet told Ali to lose weight.
Kelly then wrote a blog post explaining her issue with the shirt as well as with cyberbullying. However, Kelly said she saw the situation as an effort to bring awareness to the topic of body image, rather than an argument between herself and TCU cheerleading.
“This tank top promotes the idea that there is some sort of war between people who are thin and people who are not,” Kelly wrote. “The issue with this tank top being made by cheerleaders is that one of the most well-known groups of people on campus is saying that not being skinny is wrong.”
Laurel Gardner, a junior biology major who helped raise awareness about “fat talk” for a class project last semester, said she did not think the cheerleaders made the tank tops with mean intentions, but thought it would have been more positive for the team to promote fitness as opposed to just being skinny.
“You have to be aware how those things can affect people who maybe do have body image issues or are easily influenced by the way people think,” Gardner said. “It’s kind of a wake-up call to be careful about what you say online and how you share your opinions.”
Jett Jenkins, a sophomore pre-business major, said the Twitter interactions detailed in Kelly’s blog were “unacceptable” since they were from one TCU student to another. He said he sees the student body as a “big family” and believes those things should not have been said of another person in the community.
“We live in a world that tells people they need to be a certain way,” Jenkins said. “People are bullied all the time for the way that they look. For our representatives of our university to say you should be ‘team skinny,’ I’m not a fan of that.”
Stone said she understands how important body image is and noted that the cheerleaders have struggles just like any other person at the university. She said she just wanted the shirt to encourage the girls on the team to practice discipline and to work out harder.
“I know that everyone deals with body type no matter if they look thin or not,” Stone said. “Everyone has their own personal goals. It’s discipline. It’s working out every day. We’re promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
Stone said the cheer team wants to be respected by the student body. She said she does not want students to stereotype the cheerleaders as mean or as having eating disorders.
“If people would just take the time to ask, they would realize that we’re just like everyone else,” Stone said. “We’re just like any other girl that struggles. In all of this, my goal for the cheer program is to let girls see their worth.”
Kelly said a person’s image does not define his or her worth. She said she thinks it is clear that students on campus place a lot of importance on physical appearance, but emphasized that people should be recognized for their accomplishments, not their beauty.
“I think that we set this idea that in order to have a perfect body on this campus, you need to be thin,” Kelly said. “I think there’s a lot of pressure on girls. Obviously, the cheerleaders are under a crazy amount of pressure. I feel more bad for them in that way than angry for making shirts like that. That’s not cool that they have to feel that way.”
Stone said the shirts are not officially affiliated with university athletics and did not have “TCU Cheer” written anywhere on them.
Only 20 of the 31 members of the cheerleading team purchased a shirt, she said.
Director of Athletics Media Relations Mark Cohen wrote in an email to TCU360 that TCU Athletics took “corrective actions” in response to the behavior of the male cheerleader who responded to Ali on Twitter.