Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pom Pom Love

My pom poms and me (upper right)
My first and only pair of pom poms came flat and limp, like ironed hair. It was the beginning of the summer before my junior year in high school, and I was instructed by the older girls to rough them up, to take the strands between my hands and agitate them violently, until the material became permanently crinkled, thus coaxing them into the volume of a tumbleweed.  I agitated madly over the course of several days, and finally the pom poms were ready.  They were large enough to augment my routines. Any shape I made with my arms could now be seen from space.  Held behind my back they became a cartoonish bustle.  Wielding them took work.  The other girls and I did arm exercises with weights in the school gym to build arm strength, so that we could whip those poms across our bodies with violent precision.  Even so, they cushioned us when we landed in splits.  Perpetually boyfriend-less, I cuddled with mine.  Held them close.  

The pom poms were our Reagan-era fertility symbols, outrageous tactile shakers used to compel our team to score fruitfully.  They were talismans against the Russians, and pillows for our heads during breaks between our rigorous practices--we practiced all summer in preparation for pom girl camp and the coming school year in the dying grass of city parks.  

Decades later, I can still smell them, plastic, synthetic--with a trace of lawn.  They shed blue and white strands, left trails everywhere.  They were voluptuous objects, bound to a single context, and meaningless off the field or the court.  

So I was delighted to see Madonna wield these symbols of American girlhood during the Super Bowl halftime show, which is the only reason I was watching the game in the first place.   The pom pom portion of this show was cheeky on her part and thrilling for me, and made me a bit melancholy--nostalgic for my youth.

Later on Facebook and online, hateful comments about Madonna's Super Bowl proliferated.    If you felt the same, please read this.  And this.  And note that I'm a little shocked to be linking to both NPR and Forbes in adjacent sentences.  Must mean I'm middle-aged.

Below are three music videos that feature girls wielding pom poms:

1.  Nirvana's--Kurt thought these girls were too pretty for the song's overall vibe and complained.
2.  Toni Basil's--This video came out when I had my pom pom authority in high school.  In fact, my poms were almost exactly like these.
3.  Madonna!--and friends in full cheerleader chant mode.  Enjoy!



  1. best post ever. those pom poms are alive!

  2. also, watching that nirvana vid makes me feel like i wasted my youth by being such a (relatively) good girl. and like a failure for living so carefully as to still be alive at my advanced age.