the smell of my desperation has become a stench

For Beth and Courtney and Courtney and Andrea

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that several of my friends independently admitted to me that they had been obsessively listening to Katy Perry’s “Roar” and that it was quickly becoming a problem. For instance: one late Saturday afternoon Dane stumbled upstairs and I was like, are you just waking up now? And he explained that he’d gone dancing the night before and some “lion” song had come on and he couldn’t get it out of his head. That’s all he had to say. I knew exactly his dilemma: “Ohhh uh uh uh ohhh! Ohhh uh uh uh ohhh!”

Admit it. It’s a damn catchy song. It’s a damn good pop song, even. It’s empowering and the underlying message is: I am strong. I am talented. I do not have to sit by quietly and let anyone make decisions for me or despite me. I know exactly who I am and what I stand for. In fact, watch as I take over the world where “the world” is anything I choose to go after. This is a song that demands to be shouted and celebrated and sung through a megaphone out the sunroof of your car. Hopefully while someone else is driving. Although they probably won’t have their hands on the wheel because they will be performing a one-arm pushup during the chorus.

Leta has been asking that I play this song on the way to school in the morning, and now both of my kids know all the words. If you’ve read anything on this website you know that I’m going to be the first person to admit that parenthood is really hard. It’s frequently exhausting, often frustrating, and a daily grind on my dignity. I’ll also admit that I don’t talk enough about the amazing moments that accompany parenthood, and so here is one of those small rewards that offsets those other taxing parts: listening to my girls sing “Roar” in the backseat of the car. It gives me chills every single time, even though Marlo doesn’t really know the words and is just making up random sounds:

The best part? When she shouts, “Hup!” a second too late. Leta isn’t singing because she wanted Marlo to have the limelight. AND DID SHE.

So you can understand my disappointment when I saw the video for the first time.

I just… hmm… this is not at all the image I have in my head when I listen to this song, when I hear my girls singing it from the backseat. No no no no no NO NO NO. In fact, after watching this video I sat and thought about what a better video would entail. If I had the money and the means and the directorial chops to put together something worthy of this song, what would it be? Holy shit, why am I not thinking of more important things? HEATHER B. ARMSTRONG. The government is shut down and war and hunger and pain and death and SHUT UP.


I really should shut up, but I have to talk about the video I’d make. Because it’s important. Because here is this amazing pop song that my girls love, that’s safe for my girls to love, and it would be the perfect opportunity to showcase both the physical and emotional strength of girls, and that’s where high school cheerleading comes in.

Do what?


You heard me.

High school cheerleading.

No I wasn’t recently dropped on my head.

Wait. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t throw your pen angrily on the ground and stomp out of the room. Definitely don’t throw your phone because that’s expensive and not covered under the warranty and you promised you’d work on your temper.

I personally did not get along with the cheerleaders in high school. They were very pretty and charming and flexible and I was none of those things. But I respected their athleticism and their energy. Cheerleading in the South is its own sport, and those girls dedicated their lives to perfecting routines and flips and astounding physical feats. They traveled to competitions together, forging lifelong friendships and forgoing sleep. They sacrificed their weekends because of their love for each other and the sport they performed. Even though I never sat with those girls during lunch I knew even then that there was no better representation of team work and commitment.

Go, Bartlett Panthers!

This is the type of high school cheerleading I’m referring to:

You could probably say this about most team sports involving girls, yes, but high school cheerleading came to mind because they so often get waved off as something they are entirely not: ditzy, mean, air-headed, exclusionary. I’m sure there are cheerleaders out there who probably embody these very things, but the ones I knew, even though I desperately wanted to hate them, were the hardest working girls on campus. And that’s just it, there was no need to hate them. They were good at back flips, I was good at memorizing paragraphs of text. Different talents, different interests. That’s it. No need for an us against them mentality. There was a lot we could learn from each other.

I want a video that follows around a high school cheerleading team: their practice routines, the time they spend in the gym. Snapshots of them climbing into a van and dozing on each other’s shoulders as they travel hundreds of miles to a competition, a few of them studying for tests via flashlights in the backseat. The moments when they have to pick each other up off of the floor. The high-five after four successful back hand springs. The funny faces they make while passing time in the locker room. The perfect line of arms during a routine. The girl who broke her leg yelling encouragement from the sideline. The embraces, the ugly crying faces, the unbridled smiles and tears and joy after winning regionals, their arms around each other’s shoulders if they don’t. I want four and a half minutes of girls working with other girls, supporting other girls, empowering other girls, encouraging other girls to speak up, to scream, to jump as high as they can, to work on themselves. And I want it at the high school level. To show that it’s happening even at that age. And I want it focused on this group of girls who, as ironic as it sounds as I type this, are so often misunderstood.

There. I talked about it. And now I need to make sure my girls are learning it.

  • notcharliefromhowtobeadadcom

    2013/10/01 at 3:11 pm

    Blammo. And by that I mean, the tropes of cool and uncool are undone. We are a self-defining generation.

  • Kate F

    2013/10/01 at 3:20 pm

    Wow, that video is so stupid and insulting–you’re right, the song could have accompanied something so much stronger and more empowering.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/10/01 at 3:21 pm

    I bow down to the athletic regimen you must have lived through.

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2013/10/01 at 3:21 pm

    As a former marching band flag and band bus makeout champion I just want to say that I’m still avoiding Katy Perry.

  • virtuallori

    2013/10/01 at 3:22 pm

    Exactly. Girls need more images of working together rather than being bimbos.

  • cck

    2013/10/01 at 3:23 pm

    Can I make a suggestion? I want to see more than just cheerleaders – I want to see the girls on the debate team, the soccer team, the spirit team, student government, honor society… I want to see girls working together. Because we did. Because we are.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/10/01 at 3:23 pm

    “Band bus makeout champion” deserves a BRAVO!

  • Gem Wilder

    2013/10/01 at 3:24 pm

    I got tears in that last paragraph. So good! And I want to see that documentary. You should totally watch First Position. Ballet rather than cheerleading, but it has a lot of what you’ve just described.

  • Kk.

    2013/10/01 at 3:27 pm

    This post coming from a song that Katy didn’t even write (just like Firework), but rather wants to cash in on the current “empowerment” songs because they’re hot on the radio right now. Nothing against you, Heather, but it just irks me when people are so stupid enough to believe into the bullshit that this girl puts out (Katy). She doesn’t give a fuck about what people are going through, she just wants their $1.29.

  • Ann

    2013/10/01 at 3:31 pm

    Long time reader, first time commenter.
    Part of why I enjoy this website is that your girls are the same ages as my oldest and youngest (I threw an extra in the middle because I’m crazy!)
    Just yesterday morning, I made the exact same video of all 3 girls singing along at breakfast (morning dance parties are standard in this house.)
    Love this post. Love your idea. And thank you for putting it all into words!

  • Andrea Shipman

    2013/10/01 at 3:31 pm

    Get on it Internet! Make that video happen. And I would say the same goes for Dance, Softball and Soccer teams! I am not a Katy Perry fan but watching Marlo sing that song makes me love it already.

  • Jessie

    2013/10/01 at 3:37 pm

    My pregnancy hormones must have kicked in, because I CRIED when I saw the video, I was so disappointed. My kids like her songs, and (some) of them are a great empowerment/be true to yourself anthems. This video……….does NO credit to the song and it’s a shame. Side note: I give mad props to cheerleaders, marching bands, musical theatre kids, etc……….. because I can’t even walk and chew gum without messing one part of it up (Two left feet HOLLA).

  • KristenfromMA

    2013/10/01 at 3:40 pm

    Agreed. Plus, whenever I hear her voice, all I can think is “Auto-Tune.”

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/10/01 at 3:42 pm

    Katy actually did help write the song:

    A lot of pop songs are written collaboratively. And then she says this about it:

    “I wrote it because I was sick of keeping all these feelings inside and not speaking up for myself, which caused a lot of resentment.

    “Obviously I’ve been through a lot of therapy since my last record and that’s what this is about.”

    Admitting to therapy? That’s huge. Opens the door for someone else to get therapy. You’re assuming she doesn’t give a fuck and that it’s just bullshit which is exactly what I’m trying to speak out against here.

  • ThatGirl

    2013/10/01 at 3:48 pm

    So you’re saying that you think most singers out there are concerned about what people are going through? Really? I think they like to sing. And make money. Katy Perry appears to be good at both. Nothing wrong with that.

    I would agree that the video was a huge disappointment. That song was begging for so much more….

  • Jessie

    2013/10/01 at 3:49 pm

    I don’t care if she had the song written by someone else, or because it’s the “IT” thing. I’d much rather listen to positive lyrics on the radio with my kids instead having to listen to Disney songs on loop (one can only listen to “Under the sea” SO MANY TIMES). Music can touch and influence peoples moods, no matter if it’s “just an auto-tune pop-star”. Good grief, I’ll gladly give her my $1.29 to keep “empowerment is the hot new thing” trending, instead of over crap like a guy who sings about girls blowing his whistle.

  • lyndal

    2013/10/01 at 3:50 pm

    I swear that when this song first came out there was a different video clip and it was funny and cute – lots of talking in text with pictures to go along with the words etc from memory…. and whilst i might have thought gee that clip was made in a hurry it was a million times better than the current amazon crapola one thats on high repeat now.

  • kmpinkel

    2013/10/01 at 3:56 pm

    Makes no difference to me who wrote the song. I don’t think she (Katy Perry) is cashing in on it for a buck. She has written songs on her own that were empowerment centered. And even if she did, life is what you make it and all of us can cash in on these lyrics, whether for ourselves or our children. Quit the hatin’ and show yourself and kids a better, stronger side. From a former cheerleader, thanks for the shout out. And I was on the debate team,too!

  • The Absent Minded Housewife

    2013/10/01 at 4:04 pm

    I can’t resist tuba lips.

    Besides, the FFA trips were smellier and therefore less romantic.

  • Kk.

    2013/10/01 at 4:12 pm

    These days you can get writing credits for changing ONE word, you can also just buy writing credits (which Katy has been known to do in the past). So don’t even start with her writing her own music, unless you consider changing a couple words in a song that was already prewritten, writing a song.

    She’s also admitted to wanting to commit suicide after her divorce. She’s just playing on things that are going on in the world right now. Am I the only one that is not blinded by her fakeness? I would understand her being brave if she were talking about these things (suicide and therapy) if she weren’t also promoting a single and album in the next sentence, but she’s not.

    You’ll also recall she “wrote” a song titled “Ur so Gay” where she tells someone to hang them-self with their scarf.

  • Chelsie Young

    2013/10/01 at 4:35 pm

    I felt the same way about this song! And the video. My daughter (6) has been off-treatment for leukemia for a year, one of her dear friends passed away this summer from the disease and another (who actually spoke at the funeral) just relapsed. I think of these sweet babies each time I listen to this song. On the other hand- my daughter LOVES this video. She’s too young to connect any of the lyrics and imagery. She thinks its about how Katy Perry had a rude boy for a friend and then made friends with fun animals. Also- there are pretty flowers.

  • Tiffany

    2013/10/01 at 4:40 pm

    My daughter plays high school varsity water polo. She practices 4-6 hours a day (we joke that chlorine is her perfume), and I think that female athletes don’t get nearly the credit they deserve. It’s getting better, just not there yet. But those girls.. can I tell you how much they rock? They are so proud of themselves, and each other, and they wear their school colors so proudly, too.
    But when you hear someone complain about paying $2 to watch a ladies’ game, but say nothing about paying $10 for a guys’ football game, it sucks.. and don’t think the girls don’t hear it, too.
    Go Acalanes Dons!

  • Chelsea

    2013/10/01 at 4:44 pm

    I’ve never understood why people get so annoyed by singers recording songs that they only co-wrote, or didn’t write at all. Do you feel the same way about actors, who (most of the time) don’t write the movies they’re in?

  • Heather Armstrong

    2013/10/01 at 4:53 pm

    My hope is that if she did experience suicidal thoughts after her divorce she would think twice about writing that song lyric going forward (that song was written long before her divorce). I’m not saying she’s the brave voice of depression or the perfect pop star, but when you’re being interviewed about a single you’ve just released, you could just say, “It’s about empowering women,” but she went a step further and admitted to going through therapy. Over a divorce. That’s a lot to reveal, especially coming from someone whose every word is going to be scrutinized.

    Do you know how much of that song she *didn’t* write? And why does it matter anyway if the song itself uplifts so many people?

  • Amanda R.

    2013/10/01 at 5:02 pm

    I am totally with you and I think that’s an awesome idea. I used to love watching the cheerleading finals on TV in the ’90s (do they still air those? I’m not a teenager anymore so I have no idea). Those girls do some amazing shit, and HELL YES they are athletes.

  • Amanda R.

    2013/10/01 at 5:04 pm

    OMG, the brass players were the BEST kissers. I am totally nostalgic about making out on the band bus, lame as that may be.

  • Amy Gomoljak

    2013/10/01 at 5:15 pm

    I was watching a cheerleading competition one time and a girl got a tooth knocked out mid-routine AND SHE FINISHED THE DAMN ROUTINE! I don’t really care what I’m doing, if I get my tooth knocked out while I’m doing it, I’m probably not going to finish doing it OR do it ever again.

  • jill (mrschaos)

    2013/10/01 at 5:39 pm

    Does it really matter WHO wrote this? At the end of the day it is a song that (hopefully) empowers girls to kick ass. Even if it’s not your type of music, it’s a mainstream, much listened to song that makes girls like my two daughters feel a little badass. (And yes, I was equally disappointed in the video. I pictured a boxing ring. Which is weird, because I hate boxing.)

  • jill (mrschaos)

    2013/10/01 at 5:41 pm

    I saw that! Closed-mouth smile and all…crazy!

  • Brigid

    2013/10/01 at 6:03 pm

    The young women in this video and who are cheerleaders in college and high school are astounding.

    But the other day my 5yo said she wanted to do cheerleading in her afterschool program, and I think I surprised both of us by saying no. I didn’t think it was fair that (as it was in this program) only boys played sports, only girls were cheerleaders, and the purpose of the girls activity was to support the boys’. I can’t let my young daughter start thinking that her social role and athletic strength are dictated by how she as a girl relates to the boys.

  • Virginia

    2013/10/01 at 6:07 pm

    Play the Katy Perry song while watching the cheerleading video on mute. There is a video right there. I was amazed by how well they went together.

  • Niki W

    2013/10/01 at 6:12 pm

    I dunno, I dated an oboe player who could have taught the horn players a thing or two…

  • courtney

    2013/10/01 at 6:22 pm

    Those songwriters are being paid HANDSOMELY for all the success Katy has had with this song, and they will continue being paid for as long as this song gets played, and sold, and synced with other forms of media. So, forever. I don’t think any one of them minds AT ALL that she has “cashed in” on it, whether she co-wrote or not. And anyway, that really wasn’t the point, was it? The point is that THE SONG is positive and appropriate for young girls to hear and sing, and it just would have been really great if the video had lived up to its potential.

    And me? As not-a-mother, (and after only watching through the first chorus) I totally see what she was doing with the video. It was literal in some ways and metaphorical in others, and it is probably getting more views than cheerleaders would have (don’t we all see those at our own schools every weekend anyway?), and thus, probably a good business decision. That doesn’t mean she didn’t miss an opportunity here.

    Heather, if you haven’t heard it yet, you should check out Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” The video isn’t exactly what you’re looking for in “Roar,” but it’s fun in that it’s got people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, in all different settings, letting loose and dancing and simply being themselves. That’s not a bad message.

  • Christy Neuschwander

    2013/10/01 at 6:27 pm

    I love this post.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/10/01 at 6:27 pm

    I don’t know which I love more, Marlo’s adorable voice or the way Leta sings all the words silently so her sister can sing.

    If anyone can get some cheerleaders to make a video to this song, it’d be you. Ahem. 😉

  • Amy

    2013/10/01 at 6:49 pm

    You seem to have a lot pent up negativity towards Katy Perry Kk. You know she’s a pop star right? What famous person opens up about personal stuff when they don’t have something to promote? It doesn’t make it less truthful or honest.

    “Ur So Gay” is a really horrible song. But the line you are referring to is wishing someone died from autoerotic asphyxiation. Not suicide.

  • Jelena M

    2013/10/01 at 7:08 pm

    Personally, I prefer “Firework” to this one. I am not saying “Roar” is a bad song; in fact, I am guilty of singing it way to often.

    But “Firework”…?
    Maaaaaaaaaan …! Do I get all fired up (pun intended), trow my arms in the air, feel all sort of brave and teary-eyed at the same time. I want to shout it from the rooftop!
    And I can sit down (or jump around, is more probable…) with my two girls, all happy and tingly, and just a little sad that there was nothing like that when I was growing up and nobody to tell me , “So what if your but is a little bit bigger…? Put that bathing suit on, girl, and go have fun!”

    And “Firework” video…? That’s some emotion-inducing machine, that shit is…

    Thanks for listening!

    Good night!

  • Jennifer Holstein Godwin

    2013/10/01 at 7:16 pm

    I actually liked her perfomance of this song on the VMAs – it was all themed around a boxing ring. There are several other female singing artists that make me cringe right now with their antics – Katy Perry is not one of them. She does the whole Barbie look sometimes but she seems to be really down to earth if you take the time to listen to or read her interviews.
    This Kk person seems a bit extreme in her reaction to Katy and this song. Hmmmmm

  • Liz Ferris

    2013/10/01 at 7:27 pm

    Dooce… You really need to listen to Sara Bareillas “Brave”
    Better song. Better video.

    PS… Sorry if this post shows up several times. It’s not showing up on my screen.

  • ChickP

    2013/10/01 at 7:31 pm

    I competed against the Bartlett Panthers in the early 90s (I’m a Knoxville girl). They were AMAZING. And thank you for the respect. Hardest sport I’ve EVER done.

  • MazMonroe

    2013/10/01 at 7:40 pm

    I get what you’re saying, about women supporting women – and that the cheerleaders you knew were ultra supportive of each other, yet sadly they were the exception rather than the rule. There’s so much rivalry between girls and women, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. It’d be so good if we women could feel much more supportive of each other. I live in the UK and it’s the same here. Envy has a lot to answer for. (And I do have to say that you certainly were, and are, very pretty Heather!)

  • Angela

    2013/10/01 at 7:49 pm

    I actually love the video – the animals occupy my 19 month old long enough for me to cut her fingernails without having to pin her down. 🙂

  • MeLisa

    2013/10/01 at 8:22 pm

    I can’t wait to share this with my very impressionable team of freshmen cheerleaders that I coach, who frequently deal with a lack of respect from their peers concerning the sport they participate in. And you’re right- the song is very empowering , but the video not so much. I like your idea much better!

  • luckymom22

    2013/10/01 at 8:23 pm

    Loved this post, but I should have been working, and instead I took the time to figure out that there should be one more “uh” in “Ohhh uh uh uh uh ohhhh”. I also said “no” to cheerleading. My oldest is petite and would definitely have been a flyer, and unfortunately one day I read an article that contained the sentence “Among school sports, cheerleading is the top cause of death and serious injury to participants”…so off we went to ballet class. It worked out fine. At our school, the varsity dance team is much harder to get on than the cheerleading squad and she’s loving every minute of it. Boy, do they work hard with long, long hours of rehearsals.

  • Kristen

    2013/10/01 at 8:43 pm

    I enjoy the song Roar, but the lyrics bug me because there’s this subtle context that says “Women often get treated like s*** in relationships and that’s normal.”
    I want to make sure that when my kids grow up and fall in love, that they will know that love doesn’t mean feeling miserable with someone most of the time. So when they listen to the song I feel a little worried but try to tell myself I’m overreacting.

  • sarahbeanne

    2013/10/01 at 8:56 pm

    Did you ever watch the one season series Cheer Nation? It was this and it was AWESOME. I think it was on discovery, or tlc, or lifetime.

  • sarahbeanne

    2013/10/01 at 9:03 pm

    Yep! True life: I’m a cheerleader. Dunbar high school – then they did a season on another channel, and that was it. It was before reality tv got suuuuper weird.

  • Karen

    2013/10/01 at 9:47 pm

    Sara is awesome and has the best videos (seriously… they’re all amazing), but Roar is by far catchier. Pluswhich Marlo.

  • Erin

    2013/10/01 at 10:15 pm

    I dated a percussionist who was a FANTASTIC kisser. That is literally the only thing I miss about him.

  • DriverB

    2013/10/01 at 10:25 pm

    The little looks that Leta gives Marlo, acknowledging how cute and little and ridiculous she is, and how much she loves her exuberant little sister…I die. What a great moment to have on video!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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