Monday, August 4, 2014

Review of "It's Not About the Pom-Poms"

This book has received a lot of attention for the uplifting story of a 40-year-old single mom who overcomes long odds, including her personal demons, to be an NFL cheerleader.  But while the ending is inspiring, the book was a pure disappointment to read.  Here is my review of this book:

“It’s Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40-year-Old Mom Became the NFL’s Oldest Cheerleader – and Found Hope, Joy and Inspiration Along the Way ” by Laura Vikmanis with Amy Sohn

Football (American), Professional, Cheerleading, memior

Publish date:
March 20, 2012

304 pages

2 of 5 stars (disappointing)

On the surface, this book sounds like a real inspiration to anyone who thinks his or her dream cannot be achieved.  Laura Vikmanis divorced her husband after fourteen bad years of marriage and was a single mother who wasn’t sure what she was going to do.  She loved to dance in her younger days and became inspired to try out for the Ben-Gals, the cheerleading squad of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. She didn’t make the cut on her first try, but that didn’t stop Laura.  She worked even harder and made it during her second tryout and at the time of publication was on the Ben-Gals for three years.  Her story was an Internet hit and a movie is in the works on this story.

So, this book is a must read for everyone, right?  The message is clear, and yes, it is nice to see a woman who was so depressed and lacking in self-confidence to achieve her dream.  However, the path that Vikmanis takes the reader while becoming a cheerleader is full of contradictions and uncomfortable passages. On the latter point, that may not be the case for all readers.  But it would have been better to know that certain personal topics like Laura’s sex life (discussed far too often, IMO) and her reasons for breast augmentation surgery would be discussed in such detail. Some readers, including myself, may feel uncomfortable with such personal information. Obviously, some of this information is needed to set the story, such as her husband locking her in their bedroom.  But I really didn’t need to know that she didn’t achieve orgasm until she slept with the first man she met after separation – and on their first date.  Details like that are not really necessary for understanding this story of hope and inspiration. 

I also felt that Vikmanis contradicted herself by wondering why first her father, then her current boyfriend would want to look at magazines like Playboy, yet she does work as part of the Ben-Gals such as posing for calendars, getting the breast surgery and working hard on her physical appearance beyond staying in dancing shape. If women being portrayed as sex objects bothers her, then why does she engage in that type of behavior or work in that field?  Especially when she states that many male fans at special events bother her because they try a “boob hug.”    

I felt she also came across as judgmental on those who may disagree with her choice of profession or surgery decision.  While some of that criticism of those people may be justified, the story just seemed to be filled with too many of these, when being judged by others so much, whether her husband, father, or other women, supposedly ruined her self-esteem.  Again, it felt like one big contradiction between the message that was sent and the message trying to be sent.

The book is mainly about overcoming a horrible past and working on self-esteem.  For the most part, the book does that.  But again, some of the details to show how much better Vikmanis feels about herself now just make me shake my head.  An example of this comes near the end of the book.  She states that one of her daughters is embarrassed because some of her friends call her mom a “MILF.”  However, Vikmanis says that the comment “makes me secretly smile.”  Really?  Getting THAT kind of attention from teenagers makes her smile?  If you are not familiar with the term “MILF”, I won’t spell it out here – type it into any search engine and you will see what the acronym means. 

There is a big positive to the book, however, and that is her description of what goes on at NFL cheerleading tryouts, practices and games.  These ladies work just as hard as the players and their pay is far too low for the work they do – at the time of publication, the Ben-Gals made $750 for the season.   They have routines, need to make weight goals, and are getting less exposure on television as networks chase advertising dollars.   I thought that the writing about this issue and the activities of an NFL cheerleader were well illustrated here, as only one who has the experience can write.

This wasn’t enough to overcome the disappointment I had with this book, however, as I felt it was too much personal information and emotional.  I felt it overshadowed the powerful message to keep pursuing your dreams no matter your age or past life. 

Pace of the book: 
Very quick as I finished this in about two hours.  I admit that I did read this more quickly than most books as I just wanted to get past all her personal woes, and concentrated on the passages about the cheerleading itself.   

Do I recommend? 
I would recommend it to anyone, especially women, who want an inspiring story of overcoming a bad marriage and self-doubt.  If the reader is uncomfortable with very personal stories, whether about sex, domestic abuse or eating disorders, then he or she should pass on this book.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Nook)

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