Come and see the condescension inherent in the system!
So I frequently forget that I have an actual, physical mailbox. I'm 99% sure that my postman wants to throttle me because I check it roughly once a month, meaning he has to shove more and more "Bed, Bath, and Beyond" catalogs into a mailbox already stuffed to the brim with credit card offers, and a many desperate reminders from Time Warner and AT&T that I could purchase a phone, cable, and internet package from them. Yesterday I decided to give him a break and check my mail.
To my surprise in my mail I found a magazine from United States Figure Skating (USFS) describing Basic Skills of 2011. I must have signed up for it somehow and not realized. The cover features two photos of Evan Lysacek, our 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist, competing in Vancouver (phallic snakes and feather cuffs and all) as well as the cheerfully simplistic motto "It's Great to Skate!" It is, isn't it? What wonders could be contained in this bit of propaganda?
The answer is a lot of short, unintentionally hilarious articles aimed at someone who is not a sarcastic 26 year old. For example, there is a piece entitled "Developing a competitive spirit can be rewarding and fun" with hints about getting ready for your first evaluation or competition. "Always have a back up copy of your music" which is good, sound advice. "Have fun and smile!" is also a classic mantra for young competitors. Then again it also says, "Ladies, allow time to dress and finish your hair and make up." I'm pretty sure Johnny Weir (demurely pictured in the pull out poster directly next to this article in his mascara and white fox fur beside 7 other men who are also wearing costumes with rhinestones on them) would insist that this is sound advice for figure skaters of all genders.
The magazine also comes with cut out flashcards naming some interesting basic skills. Seven of the nine cards feature girls performing the basic moves like forward stroking, mohawks, and spirals. The two cards that feature boys are "Hockey Stop" showing two boys in hockey skates, and "Forward Crossovers" the lucky card to have the only little boy in the entire magazine wearing figure skates (other than a cartoon, and a picture of a young Evan Lysacek). The message is loud and clear: Figure skating, it's really for nine-year-old girls.
Just to let you know, USFS, I got that message loud and clear when Kate and I were the only persons to show up to Adult Basic skating on a Saturday morning.
More than halfway through I get to a tiny little article by Brenda Glidewell which is the kind of obvious name I would expect from a JK Rowling character. (Get it? Brenda Glidewell glides well across the ice.) Anyway, she starts off with the argument that figure skating was "[o]nce viewed as a sport for the young" and she's already lost me. It still is, there's just a persistent, freak minority apparently. She continues later with a Beatles-esque truism "Even those who have never stepped on the ice, or skated infrequently in the past, can become involved in skating." True. Lack of prior experience skating does not preclude you from trying skating for the first time, and there's nothing you can find that can't be found.
"Skaters participate in skating for several reasons," she tells us some of which have been explored here in this blog. Stress relief, having fun or achieving personal satisfaction, improving fitness, continuing a love that began as a youth. More condescending is the "passing time while their children are in a basic skills class" providing a counterargument to her assertion that skating was only once thought of a young person's sport within her own article. More baffling is the "social networking" as I've explored in this blog that it's actual a pretty difficult little society to break into. "Way of finding fellow vaguely masochistic loners" would be a better description, but perhaps that's not suited for children.
"Skating ability is never a concern or barrier for participation." This is the exactly the kind of backhanded compliment I expect from my mother. "She doesn't really have the ability, but she tries and we're so proud of her for that." The USFS has branded us as mere participants. Also rans. Their motto: Any adult can (...try)! "The focus of skating as an adult is on the joy one feels while on the ice mastering new skills," she says. Sure! But I feel that this is a pretty bleak assessment of what the nine-year-olds are apparently doing on the ice. Can't they focus on the joy, too? Or must they all dream of being an Olympic champion and requiring knee surgery by the time they're twenty? Somewhere a Russian coach is screeching at a child, "Stop feeling joy at mastering the double flip and show me a triple!" Poor kid. Just wait until you're adult and the expectations get much, much lower.
Now after being so unkind I should point out that the last few paragraphs of the article are actually much more exciting. Rather than making excuses for the novelty of an adult skating, she talks about joining figure skating clubs, participation in competitions and and ice shows in a general positive and upbeat tone. Things that people might actually want to do.
I acknowledge that the parents of the nine-year-old girls who hope one day to have a Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen in their family are the people bringing the most money on the USFS. I acknowledge that the nine-year-olds will provide the next crop of stars for you to promote figure skating with. But in the words of Monty Python, "What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!"