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manateespicforic.jpgIf you’re tired of the same cheerleader stereotypes–Jaime Pressly, Kirsten Dunst and Hayden Panettiere, I’m looking at you–then you’ll want to catch a ticket to see the Florida Marlins’ new cheerleading squad, the Manatees. If that doesn’t sound like the normal sexy band of blondes in short skirts, it’s because this squad is bringing it on differently: man-style.
The Manatees–named after the corpulent sea mammal–is an all-male, all plus-size squad. (I didn’t even know they referred to men as “plus-size”…I guess you learn something new every day.) According to the Christian Science Monitor, the members of the team range from early twenties to early sixties, and “in build from tubby to something more”:

But while their weight undeniably adds to the incongruity of the act, the idea is not to laugh at the Manatees because they are big. Rather, the charm is in the delightful absurdity of their performance; the sight of 14 ordinary guys, who would otherwise be spending the game in the stands with their peanuts and Crackerjacks, strutting and swaggering to the beat, striking inane poses, and occasionally bumping into each other when they forget a move.
“They’re showing people not to take life—or themselves—too seriously,” says their choreographer, Vanessa Martinez-Huff, who declares herself impressed with the enthusiasm with which her recruits have applied themselves to the challenge. “One of them said to me, ‘I’m OK with people laughing with us for what we’re doing, but we don’t want to be laughed at because of our size,’ and that’s a good philosophy.”

One of the Manatees is security officer Nelson Clark—nicknamed Tiny, he predictably is described as “between 415 and 430 pounds.” He wants “to show that big people can dance, too, big people can move, we have what it takes to make it just like skinny people.”
That’s all fine and well, but there’s no ensuring that anyone is going to laugh for the right reasons, whatever those are. It’s great that the Manatees are enabling us to see people of different body types as people of quality with something to contribute. But since (according to the article) audition alerts for the “energy squad” called for “bellies with the biggest jiggle,” this seems more marketing campaign for comic relief than an attempt to balance the scales (sorry) of justice when it comes to images of beauty.
But does this strike a blow for size equality? If we accept that people who are overweight are subject to persecution because of their size, is there within that persecution a double-standard? In other words, when will the Mermaids (the “real” cheerleading squad of the Marlins, complete with requisite sets of defined abs and other stereotypical cheerleader attributes) permit participation from women who aren’t perfect? Should they? Should they form the “womanatees,” or would they exist as the Bizarro Mermaids, for comic relief? Is this progress toward turning standards of beauty on their heads? Or are we all just turning cartwheels?

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