Before she put on that iconic white sweater and saw for herself how the wholesome dreams it sold could turn to nightmares, Josie Bullen didn’t worry about her weight. She didn’t count calories or diet. She rarely, if ever, stepped on a scale.
All her life, she’d been a dancer, keenly aware of her body. Dancing was how she best expressed herself. “I was just so in love with dance,” Bullen says. “It was my entire life.”
When Bullen arrived at USC in 2017, the allure of extending her dancing dreams, of performing in stadiums to roaring fans, of wearing the pleated skirt, the red shoes and the white sweater — with all its stature and symbolism — naturally drew her to the Trojans’ prestigious spirit squad, the Song Girls.
Bullen auditioned that October. Just 13 women were chosen for USC’s 2018 Song Girl squad, 10 of them newcomers. She was among the select few. It felt like everything was falling into place.
But her experience with the Song Girls would turn out to be among the darkest and most distressing of her life. Within a year, she would seek intensive outpatient treatment for an eating disorder. Soon after, she stopped dancing altogether.
Since 1967, when USC students voted overwhelmingly to permit women to join the university’s previously all-male spirit squad, the Song Girls have remained an indelible part of the university’s image, traveling the world with cardinal-and-gold pom poms in tow, appearing not just at sporting events but also fundraisers, donor dinners, alumni gatherings and even private engagements, projecting a glossy picture of perfection wherever they went…