I went to The Shooting Gallery today to see Helen Garber’s Olympussie exhibit. The cheerleading theme had piqued my curiosity when I read about her show in a Daily Candy email. I knew it would be a tongue-in-cheek treatise on cheerleaders and all that they stood for–good looks, boundless energy, acceptance, popularity, what every girl strives for. The irony of it all being the sadness and pain hidden in beauty. The imperfection of perfection.
Proud of my high-school cheerleading experience, I patrolled the gallery expecting to lambaste the exhibit as a shallow expression of stereotypes surrounding beauty. The Stepford Wives theme on canvas. I was thinking precisely those thoughts having viewed just a couple paintings. I read the comment book–propped up for viewers to jot down notes to the artist. Someone had pored out a heartfelt appreciation for the exhibit, how she had been a cheerleader at her private high school, kicking her heels up, all cheers, all smiles, when the whole time she was drunk off her ass.
Hmmm, not sure what private school your parents were paying for, but we got detention for chewing gum on the premises.
Interesting work, but nothing spoke out to me. Until I saw ‘The Marriage Proposal.’ I think that was the title. It’s the painting featured here. Cheerleaders are on their hands and knees looking for an engagement ring like a needle in a haystack.
I wasn’t the captain of the cheerleader squad who deep down inside harbored thoughts of suicide. Underhandedly, that’s what I feel this type of exhibit is trying to convey: cheerleaders and beauty queens who represent superficial ideals should not be idolized. Despite the kodak moments, they don’t have it all.
Regardless, I felt a connection to this painting in particular because it does capture something that I grappled with then–and even now. I stood for school spirit and leadership. I was popular, but I went to the prom alone. No one asked me. I was smart, outgoing, involved, caring. But no one wanted to be with me. No one was putting a corsage around my wrist on prom night!
Fast forward nearly a decade later. I went to graduate school where the odds were in my favor. 70% men. Gone were the braces and the pimples. I was prettier, confident, polished. I was certain I’d bring home a nascent CEO boyfriend to meet my folks. Errr, right. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Seems to have happened to a lot of my classmates. But no, not this one. No bouquet for this cheerleader.
As I sit here and write this, I’m thinking, what if the joke’s on me. Maybe the artist was hoping to lure some sucker like me who initially snickered at the paintings, then realized, wait, I am one of those cheerleaders. Because she’s right. I do think I have it all. I’ve got my own place, a great job, my friends and family. But what if I am secretly combing the haystacks. I do have it all. I really do. I swear.
Everything but the ring.