Trouble in Paradise: USC’s Song Girls and "a different, toxic reality"

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…

I hit the paywall.

I added a long excerpt. It’s a loooong article.

This is the least surprising revelation ever, excepting, of course, that USC has paid players. USC songleaders have dealt with eating disorders?!?!

The whole idea of young women in skimpy outfits cheering on young men seemed anachronistic when I was in high school in the late 40s; it is WAY past its prime.


I agree but it seems like it’s such a part of the culture, it may never change. I mean, if Texas can force it’s band to play a racist song, then I don’t think cheerleaders are going away any time soon.

Sadly this is not surprising at all. A good friend of mine was a Jazz Dancer for a few seasons. She is in incredible shape, very little body fat, etc but the atmosphere from the organization, dancer coaches, etc was absolutely toxic as well. Lots of girls on the team had eating disorders and suffered body image issues for years after.


Huh, who could have thought objectifying women would have such outcomes?


Don’t think there’s a paywall on this one.
10 Former USC Song Girls Detail Toxic Team Environment in ‘LA Times’ Report | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

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