The Christine Brennan Question

Trigger warning: mentions of sexual abuse

Since I joined the figure skating fandom about six years ago, one name has consistently driven the most controversial conversations in the sport: Christine Brennan. From her range of articles in USA Today to her in-depth exposé book titled Inside Edge, this woman is not afraid of rocking the boat, for better or for worse. However, a recent incident regarding the privacy of sexual abuse survivors has left some important questions hanging above her head. Where do we draw the line between uncovering abuse and protecting survivors? What can we do to create a space where allegations can be heard without putting the survivor in danger? How can we improve the media’s coverage of abuse in the future?

First of all, I want to point out the positive impact Brennan has had on the skating world. Her articles about skating events, like the celebratory article in 2016 that congratulated Ashley Wagner on winning the first World Championships medal for a U.S. woman in nearly a decade, are engaging and positive. Recently, she’s also become an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse in sports. She published articles on John Coughlin’s abuse allegations when few reporters were willing to denounce him, and she exposed Morgan Cipres after he allegedly sent nude photos to an underage girl at his rink. Without Brennan’s involvement, these stories might have never been published.

The latest case of abuse in figure skating involves T.J. Nyman, an American pair skater accused of sexual misconduct towards his former partners. Prominent U.S. pairs coach Dalilah Sappenfield is also under fire for allegedly covering up the abuse. Although rumors of Nyman’s misconduct have floated around for months, it was U.S. pair skater Emma Tang who exposed him with a post on her Instagram story. While Tang clarified that she was not personally a victim of Nyman’s abuse, she pointed out that many of the survivors wished to remain anonymous, so she spoke out in their place. A few days after Tang posted the message, Brennan contacted her and demanded the names of the survivors for her upcoming article. To protect the identities of Nyman’s victims, Tang refused to reply.

Although I appreciate Brennan’s previous efforts to address the culture of sexual abuse in figure skating, I think it’s appropriate to call her out here. The first priority in a sexual abuse case should always be to protect the survivors. It’s extremely important to identify the perpetrator, but no action should be taken until the survivor’s safety is 100% guaranteed. Besides, in most cases, it’s possible to expose the perpetrator without naming the survivors. Also, I think it’s very inappropriate that she asked Tang to disclose the details of the abuse without consulting the survivors. Unless someone feels comfortable enough to tell you their story directly, you should leave it anonymous. Asking other people to snitch about someone’s personal trauma is incredibly disrespectful to a survivor who has already gone through a terrible experience.

To be honest, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Brennan since I joined the fandom, but I think this is the first time her actions have truly been detrimental to someone else’s well-being. Intentional or not, she placed both Tang and the survivors in a highly uncomfortable situation, and it makes me question Brennan’s motives for writing these articles. At the end of the day, she’s a professional journalist. She’s relying on these articles to keep food on the table. Do I think she cares about survivors? Yes. Do I think she cares about lining her own pockets in the process? Also yes.

This isn’t the first time Brennan has published questionable opinions in USA Today. For example, I strongly disagreed with her article that promoted a blanket ban on all Russian athletes at the 2018 Olympics. I found most of her article about Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski’s suggestive comedy skit, which Brennan referred to as “vulgar”, to be much ado about nothing. Sometimes, it just feels that she gets called in to report when it isn’t her place to comment, and it results in a few tone-deaf articles. She’s a brilliant journalist when she stays on topics that she knows and loves, like competitive figure skating or feminism. But in the Nyman case, she crossed a critical line.

In a just world, there would be nothing wrong with what Brennan did. Survivors shouldn’t have to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety. The United States Figure Skating Association should be out here protecting them. But that’s not how the world works. We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years, but this fight is not over yet. In the meantime, we need to provide survivors with as much security as they need, and if that includes anonymity, we need to uphold it.

What’s so unsettling about the Brennan situation is that it sheds light on the lack of consistent media coverage on sexual abuse. While independent bloggers and major skating accounts on Twitter have addressed the topic in detail, Brennan is the only mainstream journalist who can get these stories into the national papers. And that’s how she’s maintained her spot as the mouthpiece of figure skating journalism. In the past, I’ve excused her petty opinion pieces because I know she’ll bring us the truth when it counts. Regardless of her motivations for speaking out, she has done a lot of good in the sport. But if she’s going to choose to write about sexual abuse in figure skating, she has a responsibility to protect the survivors she’s writing about, and by violating their privacy, she has failed them.

We need to demand better. We need to find more journalists who will stick their necks out for survivors. And we need to put the safety of our athletes above the bottom dollar.

“We were on a break!”

Dear skating family,

I am writing to announce that this blog is going on hiatus until further notice. I am entering my senior year of high school, and I’ve found that I simply don’t have the time to keep updating my blog while trying to balance school, family responsibilities, friends, and my other social media platforms. While I adore writing blog posts and sharing my own hot takes (and weird personal experiences) with all of you, my first priority right now is graduating from high school with honors and preparing for college.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’ll disappear forever! I’m fairly active on Twitter (@mad4skating), and I also have an Instagram (@madforskating). If you want to contact me, feel free to shoot me a message on either of these platforms. I will keep you all updated!

I must also announce that I will soon be taking a step back from my YouTube channel, Fairy on Ice. Since the beginning of summer, I’ve been trying to post one audio swap or video montage per day, but I can’t maintain that pace during the school year. I still have lots of unreleased videos on my computer that I made during the summer, so I will continue posting them daily until they have all been made public. I may still post some videos after that, but it will be far less frequent.

Finally, take care of yourselves in these crazy times. Happy skating, wear a mask, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

A Letter to Naya Rivera

Dear Naya,

Four days ago, my mom discovered a clip of Glee on YouTube and told me I should start watching the show because it had good musical performances. I binge-watched the entire first season in two days and fell in love with every character, including Santana. Your passion, talent, and charisma stood out from the beginning. You brought so much energy to every performance, held your own in a cast filled with equally incredible leading actors, and added a little sparkle to every episode.

I had heard that an actress from Glee had gone missing a few days before, and I recognized you from the pictures I had seen trending on social media. I didn’t know much about what had happened, but I watched each episode hoping that you were all right.

My heart fell when I saw the news yesterday. It’s such an eerie feeling to realize that this person you’ve just started to care about is suddenly gone. Last week, I didn’t even know who you were, and now I’m crying because you died. I never knew you personally, and I didn’t grow up watching Glee for years like some of my friends did. I didn’t know you at all. The person I knew was Santana, the fierce and beautiful cheerleader. But while you, Naya Rivera, was so much more than a character on Glee, Santana Lopez would have been nothing without your dedication to the role. It may seem strange, but after watching you on Glee and hearing the stories the other cast members have told about you, I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. You had such an infectious personality and spark, you were kind to everyone, and you always stood up for inclusion in the entertainment industry.

Your body may be gone from this world, but your spirit lives on in so many ways. You are an inspiration to millions of people, and you will continue to touch hearts for many years to come. You gave a whole generation of queer women a heroine they could identify with and cheer for. You were a Latina role model who defied the stereotypes placed upon women of color in the world of film and TV. In 50 years from now, someone will ask, “Who was willing to stick their neck out to fight for lesbian representation on TV before gay marriage was even legal?” and people will say, “Naya Rivera”. At the beginning of Glee, Rachel says, “Being part of something special makes you special.” You were part of something special every day because you were always brave enough to put your own interest aside to help someone else. That stubborn courage is why your beautiful son will grow up and have a life of his own. Your legacy will last forever.

I wish I had known about you sooner. I wish I could have fangirled over you for many happy years instead of just four days. But you have brought more light to this world in 33 years than most people do in 90. I feel so blessed to have known even a small part of the amazing person you were. I am overwhelmed with emotions right now, but I don’t want to be sad that you’ve passed on. I hope you are up in a beautiful place, singing your heart out with the angels. I hope you can be reunited with Corey. I hope you know how much we love you. I hope you can rest easy.

Tonight, I’m going to watch Glee. I know it will hurt when I see you on the screen and I remember that you’re not really here anymore, but I know that you created these episodes to bring laughter, love, and understanding into our homes. I want to see Santana’s story unfold for the first time. I want to celebrate a beautiful star who put so much of her soul into her work. I want to thank God for letting your brilliance touch my world.

Rest in peace and power, Naya.

With love,

A baby Gleek

Belle’s Rambling #8: 11 Books that Changed My Life

I’ve noticed that the past few blog posts for Belle’s Ramblings have been very serious. While it’s important to talk about these issues, sometimes we just need something cheerful and fun. I’ve been a book nerd since I could read, and books have formed a huge part of my world for most of my life. I truly believe we are formed by the books we read growing up, so I thought it would be nice to take a look at which books had the biggest impact on me as a kid. I titled the post “11 Books that Changed My Life”, but some of them are actually series. I’m going to put them in a rough chronological order.

 

The Princess Academy Trilogy by Shannon Hale:

I still remember when little 10-year-old Belle opened the cover of Princess Academy for the first time. From the first sentence, I was swept away into a world of pure beauty, emotion, and humanity. I related so strongly to the heroine Miri, a sheltered but persistent girl searching for her purpose in life. Shannon Hale has an incredible ability to write the simplest things in a way that’s almost poetic. This was the series that inspired me to write my own stories, and I still try to channel her exquisite use of words into my own work. Although all three books in the series are excellent, my favorite is the second, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone. It perfectly blends the fairytale world of princes and romance with the stark reality of poverty, government corruption, and revolution. When I finished it, I had an overwhelming urge to reexamine the politics in my own country, ask questions, and find ways to change things. It’s also a great series about female empowerment and a beautiful depiction of the struggles of teenage girls. In fact, it reminds me of the films “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Little Women” because it’s an honest portrayal of young women as they are – complex, flawed, and stronger than society can ever imagine.

 

The Philippa Fisher series by Liz Kessler:

Sixth grade was a lonely year for me, and I wanted nothing more than a cool friend to brighten my world. In the series, Philippa Fisher has just moved away from her best friend, so the fairies send her a teenage fairy godmother-in-training to help her feel less alone. When I read it, I felt like I had been given a fairy godmother of my own, the friend I needed at the time. Liz Kessler’s writing is cheerful and funny, but she manages to incorporate a surprisingly intense emotional undertone. The second book in the series, Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker’s Daughter, was actually the first book that made me cry. It was everything I needed at that age, and I’m so grateful I discovered it.

 

The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale:

Once again, I need to give a round of applause to the incredible Shannon Hale. These books are pure art. She painted kingdoms equal parts fairytale and gritty reality, and I felt like I was walking through the streets of Ingridan or Bayern’s capital along with the protagonists. My heart ached for every character, even the villains. I’m still partial to Enna, the quick-witted, feisty, fire-wielding forest girl. The girl-power is equally strong here as in the Princess Academy series – I particularly love Forest Born (book #4 in the series) because it shows four incredible women from all walks of life working together despite their differences and eventually forming a deep sisterhood. I actually have dozens of drawings of these characters, and I’ve reread these books more than any other books I own.

 

The Giver Quartet, Lois Lowry:

Lois Lowry is by far the most versatile writer I’ve ever encountered. While all her books are amazing, my heart will always belong to the original novel The Giver. It’s a beautiful story about the struggle for independence during adolescence and a critique of society’s desire for conformity. It taught me that the meaning of life is to live passionately through the good and the bad, and the pain in life is what makes the joy so sweet. It reminded me to stay strong through the coming-of-age turbulence and stand by the truth. It also explored ethical questions, particularly euthanasia, but it left the story open for interpretation and let the reader decide for themselves. I’ll admit, I teared up a bit at the end when Jonas escaped and became free to live without the shackles of the society he’d been raised in.

 

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins:

Okay, I’ll confess: I was absolutely obsessed with The Hunger Games when I was 14. My friends still remember how I annoyed them with hours of theories about every character. But I firmly believe this is the series that helped me form most of my opinions about the world. At the time, Donald Trump had just been elected President of the United States, and I was honestly terrified of what that would mean for my country. When I read about the clever, scrappy heroine Katniss defying the evil President Snow, I felt inspired to use my voice against the wrongdoing around me. She was so brave, determined, and selfless, and I aspired to be like her in every way. Yes, I did grow my hair out so I could wear it in a braid that year, and I still have a brown faux leather jacket I bought because it looked like Katniss’s hunting jacket. Also, she really inspired me to defy gender stereotypes as I started to express myself.

 

The Frostblood Trilogy, Elly Blake:

From the moment I opened the cover of the first book, I knew I was in for a treat. The heroine Ruby came alive in the first few sentences of the first chapter, bright and feisty and ready to slay. In a kingdom dominated by ice, Ruby has the rare ability to wield fire, which makes her a powerful enemy of the cruel king. But the most memorable part of this book to me was the relationship between Ruby and Arcus. It was one of the best enemies-to-lovers dynamics I had ever read, a constant tug-of-war that moves seamlessly into chemistry. They’re one of my top 5 fictional ships of all time because they’re just so dynamic together.

 

The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer:

At first, I was hesitant to read these books because I thought they would be just another fairytale retelling. But Marissa Meyer built an entire world so far from the classic fairytale setting that I could barely keep up. Who else would manage to pull off a story with a cyborg Cinderella, a Little Red Riding Hood who’s deadly with a pistol, a computer-hacking Rapunzel, and a mysterious plague from a kingdom on the moon? It completely revolutionized traditional retellings in a way I never could’ve imagined. The characters are so iconic, and there’s a lot of humor mixed into the intense action. It actually reminds me a lot of the Avengers movies because it features such a great crew working together to take down the bad guys and trying not to kill each other in the process. It’s also perfect for Star Wars nerds (like me).

 

The Matched Trilogy, Ally Condie:

This series literally gives me chills. Ally Condie uses a clever technique to bring us into the slowly expanding world of her heroine Cassia. Like The Giver, it explores a dystopia disguised as a safe haven from the uncertainties of life. Cassia has lived under strict control from the government her whole life, and she has little experience with the outside world. The first few chapters are written with plain, basic language, but as the story progresses and Cassia discovers freedom and love, the writing grows more poetic and powerful. The characters are strong and well-developed, and it doesn’t feel like “just another cheesy teen love triangle story”.

 

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen:

Continuing on the theme of classic books, I absolutely adore Jane Austen. Her writing is funny, honest, and ridiculously entertaining. Her style is deceptively simple – she lets the characters do the talking, and the talking they do is amazingly clever. I immediately fell in love with the strong-willed heroine Elizabeth Bennet. I mean, you gotta love a woman who, in a time where women were forced to marry for money instead of love, turns down a ridiculously rich suitor because she thinks he’s a snob. She’s basically a feminist icon of the Regency era. It was so good that I simply had to watch the BBC TV edition too – all five and a half glorious hours of it.

 

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo:

Confession: I love classic books. There’s just something so satisfying about reading these Lord-of-the-Rings-length novels written in the historical lingo of the time. I actually became interested in Les Miserables after seeing the 2012 movie. It tells the story of a reformed convict, a policeman struggling with his own moral compass, a desperately poor mother, a bright and hopeful young girl, a clever law student disillusioned with the upper classes, a brave and scrappy street urchin in love – all set against the revolutionary fever of the 1831 Paris Uprising. This book completely transformed my writing because it taught me how to weave multiple storylines into one seamless piece.

 

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

I think everyone knows I’m a huge Russian history nerd. I just love it so much and I don’t even know why. The plot follows Raskolnikov, a disillusioned protagonist whose desire to be a “great man” in society drives him to commit a murder. While the plot is beautifully constructed, it is the incredibly detailed descriptions that have left the greatest impact on me. Dostoyevsky threw me headfirst into the gritty slums of St. Petersburg in the late 1800s and drowned me in the brutal reality most people were living in. It’s helped me work on my own description skills as a writer and inspired me to write more historical fiction.

These are just a few of the books I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below! Happy reading, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

From Out to Proud: What It Really Means to be “Openly LGBTQ+”

When I came out as bi on National Coming Out Day in 2018, I thought I was openly gay. I had the talk with my mom, told all my friends on social media, and put a pride flag in my Twitter bio. It was such a relief to share my story with the world, and I was proud of myself. My friends sent such supportive messages, and there was nothing more satisfying than knowing my mom was (for the most part) cool with it. Now I was like one of those amazing openly gay people I had looked up to. Heck, maybe I’d end up with my own TV show, like Ellen.

It’s been almost three years since that fateful October day, and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an openly LGBTQ+ person. I want to share the most surprising discovery I made because I think it could be very helpful for young LGBTQ+ people trying to embrace their identity in various areas of their lives.

Last June, I celebrated my first Pride Month. For me, that was the most exciting thing I had ever been included in. It was like the gay equivalent of a senior prom. I didn’t even get to attend any parades and I had no girlfriend to celebrate with, but I didn’t care. For the next month, I could post all my “gay tweets”, dress like a stereotypical queer woman in flannel, and have a good excuse to cry while reading dozens of coming out stories every night.

But when July 1 came around and Target took down its rainbow-themed displays, I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. For the past 30 days, I had lived so freely and expressed myself without inhibitions. I had basked in the rich culture of Pride Month and screamed my truth at the top of my lungs. Yet as soon as the celebrations were over, I found myself ducking back into the comfortable shelter of the closet. I stuffed my flannels in the bottom drawer of my dresser, wiped off my bi pride eyeshadow, and stopped tweeting about my experiences as a queer woman. It felt like January had come and it was time to take down the Christmas decorations and put away the Santa hats. Pride Month was my one-month parole from heteronormativity, but now I needed to go back to pretending I was “normal”. Because even though I was confident enough to scream about my gayness all June long, I still didn’t feel like being gay was normal for the rest of the year. I needed an excuse to be myself.

I’ve talked about the end of my friendship with a rather homophobic girl in a previous post, but I want to share a conversation we had because it was a huge part of my journey to self-awareness. Shortly before our friendship started to deteriorate, she’d told me that a girl on Tumblr had shut her out of a fangirl group that consisted mostly of gays. My friend called it a “lesbian clique” and complained that LGBTQ+ people on social media “don’t talk about anything except their sexuality”. I was already out by then, and after trying to explain to her that social media is often a safe place for LGBTQ+ people who face discrimination in real life, I asked her a question that had been nagging me for a while.

“Well, you know that I’m bi,” I said. “Do you think I’m annoying?”

“Oh, you’re fine!” she said. “You don’t bother me because you aren’t loud about it. You’re not one of those annoying gays who feel like they need to scream about it all the time. I would never even know you were gay if you hadn’t told me.”

She said it like it was a compliment. In her mind, my underlying embarrassment surrounding my identity was a good thing. And she truly believed she was not homophobic. In her mind, it was fine to be gay, as long as she didn’t have to know about it. But I got tired of hiding part of myself just so I could keep her as a friend. My true friends wouldn’t mind if I talked about gay rights every day. My true friends wouldn’t mind that I was being myself.

After that conversation, I started scrolling through my tweets and wincing at how apprehensive I sounded every time my gayness came up. First of all, I had always called myself “half gay, half straight” because I thought it made me more socially acceptable. I would retweet pictures of gorgeous female celebrities on social media and caption it “not trying to be gay or anything, but she’s so pretty!”. And if I posted anything that sounded remotely queer, I’d follow it up with an explanatory tweet: “Sorry for the gay spam on main. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled programming in a few hours!”.

Reading those tweets, I realized how much I was still hiding. Metaphorically, I had taken my identity out of the closet, but now it was stashed under a rainbow flag and stuffed in the corner of the room where no one would see it. I only felt safe to be out when I could blend in with the thousands of people celebrating Pride Month who would be louder than me. And that was not pride at all.

After my little epiphany, I made an effort to come out in every area of my life. I had always thought of myself as an open person, but now that I was paying attention to my own behavior, I saw that I was fibbing several times each week just to keep my gayness a secret or simply shying away from situations that would bring it to light. But no matter how much I tried to run from it, it came up everywhere. It came up when people asked who was the hottest superhero and my brain was screaming “Wonder Woman!”. It came up when pretty girls walked past and I forgot what I had been saying. It came up when some homophobe on Twitter would make bigoted comments about gays and I couldn’t stop myself from speaking out.

To me, the scariest part of being openly bi was dealing with the “promiscuous bisexual” stereotype. I was only 15 when I came out, and I (like many other teens) was embarrassed to admit that I felt attracted to people at all. I had seen how society judged young women for dating a lot of people, and I knew the judgment would be doubled if some of those people were female. I didn’t want my parents to tease me about boys and girls, and I didn’t want to be labeled as a “floozy”. Saying “I’m bi!” felt like an abstract, harmless concept, but saying “I want to kiss a girl” was terrifying. A huge part of accepting my gayness came from accepting the side effects of adolescence as a whole and allowing myself to feel attracted to people without judging myself. I surrounded myself with supportive friends who didn’t squirm when I gushed over my female crushes, and I’ve slowly grown more comfortable with being a normal teenage girl who checks out cute people.

This Pride Month, I am striving to become more of an active member of the LGBTQ+ community rather than sitting on the sidelines. I want to share the stories of queer people who have done remarkable things to earn us the freedoms we enjoy today. I want to call attention to the problems this community faces so we can fight injustice. I want to rally my allies to rise up against discrimination and effect change. A few days ago, I wrote a blog post addressing the hidden homophobia in figure skating, and it felt good to shed light on the struggles LGBTQ+ people face in a sport I love. I’m not going to sugarcoat things to appease people who don’t approve of me or my community. I love people of all genders. I might marry a man, I might marry a woman, and neither one is less valid. Pride Month lasts 30 days, but being LGBTQ+ lasts forever. And I will not be silent until love truly wins.

The Culture of Heteronormativity in Figure Skating

Growing up, I was always told that figure skating was a pretty gay sport. We had Adam Rippon and Eric Radford bringing glory to the rainbow flag in PyeongChang, Johnny Weir chatting away in the commentary booth, and the two great Brians – Orser and Boitano – out and proud. I got lulled into believing that the figure skating community was a safe place for openly LGBTQ+ athletes, but a few days ago, I learned that this was not true and never has been so.

It all started when the aforementioned Adam Rippon recently donated $1,000 to a charity for black transgender people and posted about it on social media. Alexei Yagudin, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist in men’s skating, brutally denounced Rippon’s decision to support the cause and proclaimed that trans people and people of color didn’t need charities. He also verbally attacked Rippon himself, although he later issued a perfunctory apology for his choice of words. Many people in the skating community pulled together to support Rippon, but this incident shattered the illusion of an LGBTQ+ haven inside the world of figure skating. It also sparked a discussion about the underlying homophobia, transphobia, and enforcement of traditional gender roles in skating. I saw so many interesting perspectives on the topic, so I wanted to write a blog post to offer an honest, open conversation about what’s going on and what we can to do make this sport a safer place for people of all identities.

First of all, most of the issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community in the skating world are not as obvious as Yagudin’s obscene comments. Rather, subtle homophobia is woven into the sport through the concept of heteronormativity. Despite the many LGBTQ+ skaters who have graced the ice over the decades, figure skating has always been tailored to heterosexuals, and the success of queer athletes has been in spite of the sport’s foundations rather than because of them.

“But how can that be?” you ask. “We have men in feathery costumes and sequins! We have a dozen openly gay skaters!”

I’m going to break this article into four parts. I want to address how heteronormativity affects each discipline – men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pair skating, and ice dancing – in a different way. Also, I don’t follow synchronized skating closely enough to comment on its attitudes towards gender roles, so I would really appreciate if some insiders from the synchro world could share their stories and help us start a conversation if necessary.

MEN:

It seems the belief that “figure skating is gay” started in men’s singles because the first out skaters hailed from this discipline. Rudy Galindo got the ball rolling in 1996 when he came out, then won the U.S. national title. In addition, a lot of recently retired male skaters came out in the years to come, and the tragic deaths of several skaters due to AIDS drew awareness to the prevalence of gay male athletes in figure skating. However, the quantity of LGBTQ+ skaters in the men’s discipline has not necessarily translated to a universal acceptance of gay athletes in the figure skating community.

A prominent Twitter user named Lauren (follow her at @tyrannolaur) brilliantly covered the situation in men’s skating in a long thread. You can read the whole thread here, but I’m going to highlight the main idea by quoting a few of her tweets:

There are extremely powerful people in this sport that are homophobic. There are institutional punishments for being gay: that’s what being underscored for seeming “too feminine” as a man is.

Basically every narrative in general society about men in figure skating is based on the assumption that male skaters must be gay because the sport has been coded as “feminine” since the explosion of Sonja Henie’s popularity in the 20s and 30s.

This association — that if a woman becomes known for excelling in something, it becomes known as women’s work, which is inherently feminine — is dripping with misogyny.

When men do something with this association, we get an intersection of misogyny (femininity is “bad” in men, and partaking in a feminizing act detracts from manhood) and homophobia (society codes a man partaking in what is considered a feminine act as inherently gay).

Because femininity in men is coded as gay, and because figure skating is coded as feminine, there is an automatic assumption by society at large and even fans of this sport that basically all the men in FS are gay.

This isn’t true. Read basically any interview with an out retired skater, and they’ll talk about how the vast, vast majority of the men in this sport are straight.

Furthermore, perceived femininity and homosexuality are punished from an early age — not just outside of the sport, but within it. Coaches. Judges. Officials. Fellow skaters. There’s an overwhelming amount of pressure to be “manly”/“athletic” rather than delicate/“artistic.”

Look at the different narratives surrounding top skaters (even ones whose sexuality we don’t even know), and you’ll see a clear difference in how skaters perceived as “feminine” (or gay) are talked about. The man with the highest quality of technical ability — someone with clear technical prowess — is not seen as nearly as “athletic” as others with lower technical scores because of his perceived femininity.

It comes down to this: the reason people assume skating must be devoid of homophobia is because they assume the men in skating are all or mostly gay. That is itself a homophobic assumption.

Of course, not everyone in FS talks like Yagudin or those Québécois announcers who tore into Johnny Weir. However, just because the majority of punishing of perceived femininity and homosexuality is less blatant and crass does NOT mean it does not exist, or that it isn’t harmful.

[The sport is] not even safe for men who are perceived as feminine and potentially not straight who have said NOTHING about their sexuality. The fact that men are coded as feminine is enough for them to experience discrimination and punishment. They don’t have to be out.

And, to address the elephant in the room — yes, some of the men reinforcing the institutional homophobia in this sport are, in fact, not straight themselves. They were raised in this mess, and they are still upholding norms that punish any men perceived as feminine or gay.

Now, let me make one last thing clear: this whole discussion is not reason for you to label anyone who thinks your favorite skater with unannounced sexuality might not be straight as an ~anti~. That is homophobia, too; it’s predicated on the assumption that homosexuality is bad.

I have little more to say on this topic because Lauren has covered it so eloquently, so I will simply add a few notes of my own before moving on to the other disciplines.

I’ve witnessed this quiet homophobia firsthand, long before I even knew what it was called. I grew up watching Olympic figure skating on TV with my parents, and I have some memories of my dad making shady comments about male skaters based on their level of perceived femininity or masculinity. He thought Lysacek was cool and Weir was an oddball. He called Yuzuru Hanyu’s 2014 Olympic free skate costume a “dress”. He said he liked Javier Fernandez because he was one of the few skaters in the event who looked “manly”. And he didn’t believe me when I told him Eric Radford was gay because “he doesn’t dress like a gay guy”. I don’t think my dad has any true hatred for gay people in his heart – he was very supportive when I came out to him, and I can talk freely with him about my experiences as a young queer woman. Recently, I’ve started talking with my dad about how these old stereotypes are harmful to LGBTQ+ people, and he’s been open to hearing it. But for a 40-something straight man raised on a farm in the American Midwest, seeing a man in sequins and ruffles was like seeing a green-skinned Martian. This doesn’t excuse his insensitive comments, but it gives us some perspective on how the culture of homophobia in figure skating has been built. If you look at the judges at a skating competition, there’s a good chance there’s someone like my dad on the panel. Nine times out of ten, they’re not maliciously underscoring gay skaters because they don’t want gay skaters to win. But they’ve been conditioned to think that the guy in the feathered top and velvet pants is “odd”, and their unconscious bias affects how they award scores. Much of the homophobia we see in society is driven not by targeted hatred, but by sheer ignorance and internal micro-judgments we’ve picked up throughout our lives. It’s time to rethink how we approach the concept of masculinity as a whole.

LADIES:

While the fight for gay inclusion and acceptance in men’s skating took place under the public eye, the struggles of queer women in the sport occurred just beneath the surface. In general, the ratio between openly LGBTQ+ male skaters and openly LGBTQ+ female skaters is startling. Today, there are only a few ladies representing the rainbow flag in comparison to the dozens of out-and-proud men.

It’s a sad truth that the patriarchal structure of many countries has created a system where men typically achieve “firsts” before women – for example, the first man in space came before the first woman in space. But on the topic of gays in Olympic winter sports, girls rule. In both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, every openly LGBTQ+ athlete was female. However, figure skating has not yet experienced this boom, and there’s several reasons why.

I must say that the conservative attitudes of the figure skating community are not completely to blame for this statistic. First of all, most of the dominant ladies’ skaters are teenagers whereas many male skaters are in their 20s, and the careers of recent female skaters have been generally shorter than men’s. This means that a girl’s main days in the spotlight tend to occur between the ages of 15 and 18. It’s hard enough to be a celebrity while you’re still in high school, let alone an openly gay one. Not to mention, many top female skaters come from countries where LGBTQ+ rights are not protected, and coming out could jeopardize their careers.

However, I strongly believe that the lack of LGBTQ+ skaters in ladies’ singles is due to the culture of hyper-feminization in figure skating. When you picture a female figure skater, what do you see? Pink tutus covered in thousands of glittering rhinestones? Delicate white skates with the laces tied in perfect bows? Silky hair swept into a flawless bun? Although we’re starting to see some women push the boundaries of this stereotype, ladies’ figure skating was designed around traditional images of grace and beauty. How many times have you heard people throw around the terms “ice princess” and “America’s sweetheart” when they’re talking about skating?

This brings up a problem that affects women not only in sports but in everyday life: intense scrutiny. Women in skating are expected to look perfect, act perfect, and be perfect. It’s all about portraying this classic image, and for the old-school judging panels, being gay is an automatic deduction. In many ways, the world of ladies’ figure skating is still stuck in the Regency era, and judges often prefer skaters who appear “modest” on the ice. (I will state that ice dancing allows much more sensuality in comparison, but we’ll discuss that later). In short, the judges want to see Grace Kelly, not Miley Cyrus. But it’s 2020, and if you ask me, it wouldn’t hurt to have some Miley.

The bottom line is, the figure skating community shows little support for openly gay women because female skaters are largely judged based on image, and the desired image for a female skater is a beautiful, angelic doll. For decades, queer women have been seen as “less” than straight women – less feminine, less beautiful, and less worthy of admiration. This is especially true for the many queer women who don’t conform to the standard conventions of femininity. I could write about the stigma and stereotypes around LGBTQ+ women for the next hour, but for the sake of this article, I will simply say that in the eyes of the judging panels, being queer is somehow seen as crass and unsophisticated. But there is nothing trashy about being LGBTQ+. Look at Amber Glenn’s stunning short program to “Scars” by Madilyn Bailey. She’s a talented skater, a beautiful performer, and an openly bi/pan woman.

During this discussion, my amazing friend @tessaandscott97 pointed out the unreasonable expectations placed on female skaters as a whole in one accurate tweet:

Also would like to add in how all females (regardless of their gender) have to portray a feminine “look” (which includes being skinny, petite, and no visible muscle) and girls that put on more muscle are regarded as masculine, gross, fat, and lazy. THIS SPORT NEEDS TO CHANGE.

This level of judgment has unfortunately fallen on nearly every female skater in the sport. A few years ago, a prominent pair of skating bloggers criticized Elizaveta Tuktamysheva by saying she needed to lose weight. Tuktamysheva competes mostly against teenage girls who are still going through puberty and therefore have naturally slimmer bodies, but she is capable of landing consistent triple axels in competition and even quad toe loops in practice. Clearly, her weight is not hindering her jumps, so the criticism was because she did not fit the stereotype of the balletic, stick-thin female skater. Meagan Duhamel – a tiny powerhouse in pair skating – shared on her blog that she was frequently body-shamed for being muscular. 2019 U.S. champion pair skater Ashley Cain-Gribble got backlash simply because she’s taller than the average pair girl. Kaetlyn Osmond and Ashley Wagner also backed up these experiences with their own stories. If an athlete is performing well, it shouldn’t matter what body shape they have. The only reason why people care is because they believe female skaters need to fit a specific image of beauty. The world cares more about how a female skater looks than how well she can skate.

In a sport that judges women so harshly on their appearance and a society that associates queerness with being unattractive, it’s impossible to create a safe place for LGBTQ+ women in figure skating until we dismantle the systemic misogyny this sport was built upon. If a girl in a pink sequined tutu can land triple jumps, that’s awesome. But if a lesbian in a flannel shirt, ripped jeans, and a pixie cut can also land triple jumps, there shouldn’t be anything stopping her.

Although much of this segment has addressed the absence of openly LGBTQ+ women in figure skating, I want to acknowledge the trailblazers who have defied the limits and paved the way for a brighter future in the face of opposition. The first openly LGBTQ+ female figure skater was Fumie Suguri, who came out as bisexual in 2014. Unfortunately, since she had stopped competing at the elite level a few years before coming out, the media paid little attention to her story. In 2018, American ice dancer Karina Manta also came out as bisexual, becoming the first female skater to be openly queer while still competing. Since then, Amber Glenn, Rachel Parsons, and Fleur Maxwell have also come out, and it is my hope that more will follow.

PAIRS:

Pair skating and ice dancing are both built upon a partnership between a man and a woman. Of the four main disciplines of figure skating, I think pairs is the least heteronormative. I find it to be a refreshing change from the strict gender roles of singles’ skating because in recent years, we’ve seen a wave of fabulous boss women sporting short haircuts and unitards rather than the classic ballerinas in rhinestones. Seriously, there’s nothing I like better than seeing fierce girls dragging huge men around the ice. But while pair skating doesn’t face the same level of scrutiny as ice dancing, it’s still centered around some form of chemistry between male and female partners, and pairs that don’t display this tend to receive lower scores.

I’m pleased to say that several pairs in recent years have broken the mold. For example, Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot’s breathtaking free skate at the 2018 Olympics to La terre vue du ciel was an abstract masterpiece that featured a series of insane physical feats arranged to create a dramatic crescendo instead of a romantic storyline. However, we still haven’t managed to erase the age-old narrative that all pair skaters must fall in love. Look, I adore a love story on ice along the lines of Gordeeva/Grinkov, Pang/Tong, and Volosozhar/Trankov, but that isn’t possible for every pair – especially when one or both of the partners is LGBTQ+. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the case of 2-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Despite their excellent technical skills, they were constantly criticized for their lack of romantic chemistry, even after Radford publicly came out as gay. Critics often said that they moved “like two single skaters” instead of a pair, ultimately ignoring the unique dynamic they formed in place of a love story. Duhamel/Radford’s chemistry was one of opposites; the tiny, scrappy Duhamel providing the spark of the team while the tall, elegant Radford provided balance and steadiness. Few fans recognize that connection between partners doesn’t have to be inherently romantic or sexual to be beautiful. This mindset is a direct result of heteronormativity.

In fact, this belief affects not only LGBTQ+ pair skaters, but teams where romantic chemistry simply doesn’t come naturally to them. Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang of China were both talented skaters with strong elements and good packaging, but many fans shied away from them because of the large age gap between them. As long as two skaters are equally capable of performing a program, their ages shouldn’t matter. Yet when people saw Peng/Zhang, they said it looked “wrong” because they were a young girl and an older man. It’s only “wrong” because fans automatically filter pair skating through the heteronormative lens, which establishes that a man and a woman on the ice must be compatible for dating. Also, this perspective creates an expectation that all partners must be inseparable soulmates who can’t stop gazing into each other’s eyes. Pairs that have very separate lives off the ice or get frustrated at each other immediately get labeled as “couples headed for divorce any minute”, as if they’re in some legally binding contract where adoring your partner with all your heart is a requirement. Even Wenjing Sui and Cong Han get badgered by the press about their relationship status, although they’ve repeatedly stated that they are only close friends. This is all because the viewers have been conditioned to expect romance. To paraphrase the great Jane Austen, people are taught to believe that a single man in possession of good skating skills must be in want of a wife.

ICE DANCE:

Of all the disciplines affected by heteronormativity, I think ice dance wins the grand prize. It was essentially born from the phrase, “Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire”. First of all, the ISU requires all couples to perform a predetermined rhythm dance pattern (formerly called the “short dance”). Sometimes that dance is an elegant waltz or a lively polka, but more often than not, it’s a dance steeped in romance, like a tango or a samba. As in pair skating, ice dancers are judged on their chemistry, and the hotter the better. Just take a look at Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir’s steamy program to Carmen from 2013 Worlds and you’ll see what I mean.

In fact, Virtue/Moir are perhaps the best example of heteronormativity gone wild. Fans became so obsessed with their on-ice chemistry that they literally had to go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to inform the public once and for all that no, they were not dating. Even after Scott announced his engagement and Tessa went public with her new boyfriend, the fandom was still convinced that the duo were star-crossed lovers who would somehow end up together in another life. To a point, it’s natural to fall in love with the idea of two partners who’ve developed a special bond from skating together for so long. I certainly did. The required pattern dances have forced nearly all ice dance teams to project chemistry, even if they aren’t together. (Remember Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin’s iconic kiss at the end of their Moulin Rouge rhythm dance?). It’s as if every couple is Katniss and Peeta from The Hunger Games, trying to convince the nation that they’re in love so the evil President Snow won’t kill them. And naturally, the fans buy it, because how can you possibly be “platonic partners” when you’re making out in the middle of the ice in front of 12,000 people?

However, I am pleased to note that the culture of this sport is slowly changing. 4-time World champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron pioneered a lyrical, abstract style of ice dancing that breaks the traditional heteronormative template. Thanks to their success, we’ve seen a rise in programs that push the boundaries of “a story of a man and a woman”. The sibling duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani – better known as the “ShibSibs” – worked their way around the romantic themes of the required programs through innovation. The Shibutanis created an iconic short dance to a hip-hop remix of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” in place of the sexy blues programs most couples were doing, and they were best known for their trio of emotional free dances to Coldplay songs that express the love between siblings rather than the attraction between lovers. Finally, Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson, the first elite-level ice dance team comprised of two openly LGBTQ+ skaters, took the audience at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships to the gay club with their edgy, sassy free dance to “Sweet Dreams”.

I’ve already mentioned my queen Karina several times in this article, but I have to quote her once more, because she posted a fabulous tweet that addresses the hyper-feminization of women in ice dancing:

I’m including this tweet because it leads to a social experiment. The International Skating Union actually made an exception to the aforementioned rule in the 2016-17 season, when they allowed women to wear pants or jumpsuits in the short dance. This gave us some stunning outfits – just look at these photos of ice dance goddesses serving looks. Let’s start with Tessa Virtue:

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Maia Shibutani:

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Madison Chock:

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Alexandra Stepanova:

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Clearly, wearing pants doesn’t make them any less gorgeous – and more importantly, capable of skating. But the sport is still stuck in some 1800s mentality of misogyny where girls wearing pants are somehow committing a cardinal sin. It’s because skirts are considered a symbol of old-fashioned femininity, and figure skating isn’t ready for women who don’t conform to these traditional images. And you can imagine how a sport that gets scandalized by women in pants would react to queer women skating in suits or anything that breaks the heteronormative mold. (Shoutout to Piper Gilles for wearing a dress modeled after a tuxedo for last year’s rhythm dance!).

I am aware that there may always be some underlying heteronormativity in skating. It’s a simple fact that straight, cisgender people form the majority in society, and that’s okay. I personally love seeing cute married couples who skate together and deliver beautiful, romantic performances. But I also love seeing openly LGBTQ+ athletes being free to express themselves beyond the traditional themes of male/female relationships and gender stereotypes. Figure skating is an art as well as a sport, and art must be open to a variety of styles and techniques.

Although figure skating has been historically portrayed as a gay-friendly sport, there is still a lot of underlying homophobia beneath the surface.

This is why we need to applaud all the skaters who have come out over the past few decades. No matter how many skaters are out, coming out is still a brave choice because homophobia still exists. Until there is true equality – until we build a world where no one needs to come out because LGBTQ+ is considered normal, we need to keep having these conversations.

Please consider donating to the Okra Project in support of black trans people or the Trevor Project for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Also, let’s not forget that the LGBTQ+ rights movement was started by black trans women who bravely marched out at the Stonewall riots, and the relative freedom LGBTQ+ people enjoy in the United States is because of them. Happy Pride Month.

Useless Trivia About Me

Nobody asked, but here’s a list of fun facts about me if any of you are curious about the crazy girl who runs this blog.

BASIC INFO:

1. I’m 17 years old

2. I am female and use she/her pronouns

3. I live in a small town in the Midwest of the United States

4. I am biracial (Vietnamese and white)

5. I’ve been openly bisexual since October 2018

6. I am a progressive Democrat

7. I am a passionate feminist

8. I stand with the LGBTQ+ community and #BlackLivesMatter

FIGURE SKATING:

9. I started watching figure skating at the age of 7 during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The first skater I ever loved was Mao Asada.

10. I began following the sport closely when I was 11 after watching the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

11. In 2015, I attended Skate America and it was one of the best days of my life.

12. I joined the skating fandom on Twitter in 2016 and started blogging about figure skating in 2017 on my Tumblr.

13. I started my YouTube channel, Fairy on Ice, at the beginning of 2020. I named it after Mao Asada because when I first saw her in Vancouver, I thought she was a fairy.

SCHOOL:

14. I was homeschooled until 10th grade. I am now a student at Connections Academy, an online school.

15. I got a perfect score of 36 on the English portion of the ACT test (can’t say the same for the rest, but I’ll take what I can get!)

16. I plan to attend college in the fall of 2021 and major in English and Russian.

17. I am a member of the National Honor Society.

HOBBIES:

18. I am a huge book nerd. I really like reading classic novels.

19. A friend once told me that I needed to read War and Peace, so I spent the whole summer of 2019 trying to get it done before I turned 16. I finished it the day before my birthday.

20. I have been knitting since I was little.

21. When I was 7 years old, I saw Jackie Evancho audition on America’s Got Talent and decided I wanted to be an opera singer. I’ve chosen to keep singing as a hobby instead of a career, but I still post some clips.

RANDOM FUN FACTS:

22. I am obsessed with peanut butter

23. My favorite colors are red and black

24. I love superhero movies

25. If I was a literary character, I would definitely be Jo March from Little Women.

My Favorite Figure Skating Costumes from the 2019-20 Season

The 2019-20 figure skating season has been a whirlwind of surprises, excitement, and drama. The cancellation of Worlds made the year feel a bit incomplete to me, and I’m not sure how long it will be until the skating world as we know it is back in full swing. However, this season gave us many great moments, and I want to focus on the good parts. For me, one of the highlights of figure skating competitions is the variety of costumes. Skating is one of the few sports that allows for artistic expression in this way (you don’t see Olympic downhill skiers wearing rhinestones and feathers as they’re clearing the slalom), and I want to give a round of applause to all the costume designers who created some true masterpieces this season. In no particular order, here are my favorite costumes from the 2019-20 season.

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, “Rain in Your Black Eyes”.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Look…I know that these costumes Do. Not. Match. I still imagine they had a fight about what color to wear and Coach Hongbo Zhao said “fine, go out in whatever you want!” But separately, the costumes are gorgeous. Wenjing’s dress looks fit for the Oscars – I would love to see it turned into a glorious full-length evening gown. The deep green is mystical and looks great with the jeweled accents. Cong’s costume is simple but doesn’t just look like the dreaded plain black shirt of most pair guys.

Evgenia Medvedeva, “Exogenesis Symphony 3”.

Photo credit: Danielle Earl

This costume is such a unique, artistic masterpiece. It’s always a bit tricky to design a unitard that’s not too flashy but doesn’t look like a boring black training outfit, and this one checks off both boxes. The black background provides a solid base that’s not too distracting from her skating while the blue decorations add eye-catching focal points. The sleeves look like wings, so now I really want her to skate to “Arrival of the Birds” by Coldplay. It reminds me a lot of Yuzuru Hanyu’s costumes. I would remove the flaps of fabric on her legs, but overall it made a memorable impression and worked well for the program.

Jason Brown, “I Can’t Go On Without You”.

Photo credit: US Figure Skating Fan Zone

It’s hard to make a black costume for men that doesn’t put the audience to sleep, but Jason Brown absolutely killed it with this outfit. From a distance, it just looks like a regular t-shirt and pants, but it’s the little details that completely transform it into a stylish ensemble. The faux leather and silver zipper add a sleek, modern vibe, and the slim fit of the shirt accentuates his strong lines and excellent posture. It’s cool, it’s sexy, and it doesn’t get in the way of his skating. He really looks like a rock star out there, and I hope other male skaters take tips from him about making black costumes that work.

Kaori Sakamoto, “The Matrix”.

Photo credit: Jung Yeon-je
Photo credit: Kyodo News

As a big Matrix fangirl, I was very excited to see Kaori’s costume for this program. I was expecting a unitard because that’s what Trinity wears in the movie, but I think the dress was the right choice for her. It’s not easy to design a costume that would fit into a computerized dystopia full of martial arts and gunfights and can also survive a four-minute performance on skates. Instead of copying the costumes straight from the movie, the designers incorporated the theme into the final product in a way that suits Kaori. The leathery material and slits in the skirt are a nod to the Matrix’s trench coats, and I’m in love with the green sparkles, which imitate the computer codes in the movie. I think this costume captures the essence of Trinity while playing to Kaori’s strengths.

When working with faux leather, it’s easy for the dress to turn out looking a bit cheap, but this one is cool, striking, and edgy. Overall, it gives her a very strong presence on the ice.

Alina Zagitova, “Me Voy”:

Photo credit: @azagitova on Instagram
Photo credit: sportsdaily.ru

When I first saw this dress at the summer ice shows, I gasped out loud. Alina generally has good taste in costumes, but this one is by far my favorite. It’s such an elegant, classy silhouette and the black lace looks vintage and expensive. This program was more mature and emotional than Alina’s previous programs, and the dress rose to the occasion. I would love to wear this to a cocktail party – it’s subtle, yet it accentuates her natural beauty. The red accents give it a touch of color on the ice, and while I’m not usually a fan of skaters wearing gloves, these ones look nice. Can do you tell I’m a sucker for black lace dresses?

Yuzuru Hanyu, “Origin”:

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Photo credit: Sponichi Tokyo Photo

I already gushed over this costume in my Grand Prix Final review, but I want to talk about it again here because it’s so stunning. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of beads or frills on skating costumes, but I had to make a big exception for this one. The deep purple gives it a quiet, almost understated luxury, providing a background for the gorgeous details. The gloves accentuate his gracefulness and the top blends perfectly into the black pants. It gives off a vibe of dark magic – I’d love to see him use this costume for a program to Dracula. (Did anyone else notice that it’s the same shade as Alena Kostornaia’s dress from her Twilight program?). It’s truly fit for a king.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, “Oblivion”:

Photo credit: Elena Vasileva
Photo credit: Elena Vasileva

As a proud Slytherin, I fully approve of this dress’s stunning color. I think green is a criminally underrepresented color in the skating world, and it looks incredible against Liza’s hair and skin tone. It’s simple, sheer, and sexy, like a luxurious negligee. The sparkling decorations around the neckline and side are beautiful but unobtrusive. I can’t say I love the gloves with this particular dress, but overall, this dress was a job well done!

Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro, “Love on the Brain”:

Photo credit: AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Every time I see this dress, I want to burst out singing “Dancing Queen”. She looks like a retro disco goddess. This jeweltone shade of blue is simply flawless. The rhinestones along the neckline create such a flattering silhouette, and everything about this costume totally exudes Kirsten Moore-Towers magic. Mike’s shirt is basic but I like how the cutouts mimic the beading on Kirsten’s dress.

Lubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau, “Je Voudrais Voir la Mer”:

Photo credit: Getty Images

This is really just a review of Lubov’s costume because Charlie fell prey to the Pair Man’s Plight of basic black shirt and pants. But I’m still going to include these costumes in my review because her dress is so pretty. The pale blue is so serene, classy, and beautiful, like Lubov herself. The long sleeves and high neckline give it a vintage elegance, and the dark blue streaks remind me of the sky just before sunrise. It’s light, dreamy, and lovely. Also, this color always reminds me of Fleur Delacour from Harry Potter.

Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud, “Someone You Loved”:

Photo credit: @inthelopodcast on Instagram

Evelyn and Trennt caught my eye last year with their good taste in costumes, and they continued to impress this season. Evelyn’s dress looks like a gorgeous flower. I like the subtle ombré around the waist; it’s beautiful without being distracting. Like Wenjing Sui’s costume from earlier in this blog post, I think this dress would make a breathtaking evening gown. Also, can we talk about Evelyn’s flawless makeup? Trennt’s costume is simple and I would’ve liked to see some color on him, but the rhinestones and belt add some little focal points.

Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov, “Te Amo”:

Photo credit: Sergei Bobilev/TASS

I included this one on the list because of her dress – I absolutely love it! It’s simple, romantic, and suits her perfectly. The halter-neck style is chic and flattering, and the cutout in the front makes it flirty without being tacky. My motto for skating costumes is “black lace makes everything prettier”, and that is especially true here. It’s really amazing how Tarasova/Morozov’s costumes have improved so much in the past few seasons, and I think this is the best dress she’s ever had. I would’ve liked his shirt to be solid burgundy, but it works all right.

Rika Kihira, “International Angel of Peace”:

Photo credit: Kyodo News

The first time I saw this dress, I fell in love. The brilliant color reminds me of the ocean, and the gold decorations are extravagant without looking cheap. She looks like the young queen of some wealthy empire. It fits her well and looks vibrant against the ice. I’m so bummed that she didn’t keep it for more competitions – I think it’s more eye-catching than the pale green/gray version she wore later. Rika has quickly become one of the best-dressed ladies in the sport, and I look forward to seeing her costumes next year.

Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson, “Light of the Seven”:

Photo credit: US Figure Skating Fan Zone

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer: I’m not sure how her dress has anything to do with Game of Thrones. But it’s so beautiful that I don’t really care. I appreciate the simplicity of the silhouette, and the hazy purple looks perfect against her hair and complexion. I could see this dress in a program to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s strong, but not overbearing. Brian’s costume is fairly basic (pair guys continue to be a walking poster for the Men in Black franchise), but I like the placket on the front of his shirt. It hints at the medieval fashions from Game of Thrones without being cumbersome. In general, Calalang/Johnson tend to be a well-dressed pair and I really admire their costume choices!

Cheng Peng/Yang Jin, “Allegria”.

Photo credit: VCG Photo

Once again, Cheng Peng came up with a stunning dress for the short program. The pale pink is light and dainty, and it moves beautifully on the ice. I’m usually not a fan of girly colors, but this dress works. The black lace forms a little corset, creating a flirty, vintage dress fit for a queen. I also have to give a round of applause for Yang’s jacket. Although it’s still another case of Pair Men in Black, this outfit is equally worthy of praise as Cheng’s dress. The cut of the collar is bold and striking, and the silver details remind me of Black Panther. These costumes are excellent designs on their own, but together, they form a strong aesthetic on the ice.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates, “Egyptian Snake Dance”.

Photo credit: Getty Images

To be fair, Madison Chock is a queen who could look good even if she was dressed in an old pillowcase like a house-elf from Harry Potter. But she has generally good taste in fashion, and of all the stunning dresses she’s worn, I think this is my favorite. It’s as if she’s draped in a glistening net of jewels and gold. Usually, I don’t like gold dresses because they tend to look flashy and cheap, but this one is a masterpiece. It’s glamorous, sexy, and totally unique – she looks like a true Egyptian goddess. I also want to mention her cool braid; it reminds me of Angelina Jolie’s hairstyle in Tomb Raider. I can’t look at Evan’s shirt without thinking of the U.S. Army, but at least he’s not wearing black, and the green actually compliments her dress nicely.

And the award for Most Fun Costume goes to…

Photo credit: Golden Skate

I couldn’t do a blog post without mentioning Papadakis/Cizeron’s wild costumes for their rhythm dance to “Fame”. They tweaked them a few times throughout the season but my favorite is still the bright set from the Grand Prix in France. Guillaume is the only man hot enough to wear that headband and not look like a total dork. It looked like they had walked out of a Jane Fonda workout video. The costumes were low key ridiculous but they suited the program, and Gabriella and Guillaume brought the swagger to pull them off.

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This concludes my review of the best costumes from the 2019-20 season. Feel free to comment below with your favorite costumes of the year. Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Belle’s Rambling #7: Coronavirus is a Fact, Not a Debate

Hey everyone, it’s Belle. I really hope you are reading this from home, because right now, home is the safest place to be. I know everyone is saying this, but it’s really necessary.

I don’t need to give you all a recap about the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s been all over the news lately, and most places in the world are literally on lockdown. The Summer Olympics got postponed, malls and restaurants are closed, and even celebrities are getting quarantined. Graduations and proms are cancelled, movie release dates are getting pushed back, and basically the whole world’s been turned on its head.

But the thing that’s most puzzling to me is how some people actually think the coronavirus is an issue for political debate.

It would probably help if President Trump and his friends in Congress weren’t using it as an opportunity to start a catfight with China while people are dying.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a classmate who comes from a conservative background. She was complaining that everyone was overreacting and it wasn’t fair that everything was getting shut down. When I brought up that people were dying, she dropped the line I’ve heard way too many times: “It’s just like a regular flu. People die from the flu too and no one shuts everything down. Everyone’s just freaking out because it’s some weird strand from China.”

Thankfully, another of my classmates quickly diffused the situation by bringing up video games, but it was a very uncomfortable experience for me. People can argue about opinions, but you can’t deny facts. The coronavirus is killing thousands of people worldwide, yet some folk still want to sit there and say it’s not a big deal.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that majority of Democrats supported an immediate response when the outbreak started while majority of Republicans took minimal action. The coronavirus has revealed the flaws in the Republican-built healthcare system. And the Republicans in government knew about it. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be trying to sweep a whole pandemic under the rug.

It’s bad enough that they’re trying to cover up their inadequate healthcare program, but it’s even worse to see the distraction they’ve devised: blaming the Chinese.

Look, I know the virus started in China. I know that their government didn’t contain it as quickly as they could have, which allowed it to spread faster. But fueling the notion that the Chinese are strictly to blame for the coronavirus brings out some blatant racism, and the US government isn’t helping. Even if China had the greatest government in the world, they would not have been able to shut down the virus before anyone died. They could not have contained it within their borders because not all infected people are aware they are carrying the virus, and the US government would’ve had a fit if China started detaining American citizens who seemed perfectly healthy and wanted to fly back to the States.

That’s why it is never okay to call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”. At first glance, it doesn’t sound that offensive – after all, it originated in China. However, “Chinese virus” places the blame on Chinese people as a whole, not the Chinese government. It reinforces the concept that all Chinese people are carriers and enables racism. Let’s face it: not all Americans are smart. If some bumpkin who’s never seen an Asian person before hears that the Chinese are bringing a virus to America, he’s going to be scared for his life when he sees anyone who looks even remotely close to Chinese. And since that bumpkin probably can’t tell the difference between a Chinese person and a Thai or Korean person, that breeds prejudice against all Asians and Asian Americans. I’ve heard quite awful stories about Asians facing an increase in discrimination since the coronavirus outbreak began. Being half Asian, it makes me very uncomfortable to know that some people might perceive me as a threat simply because my mother was born in a country that shares a border with China.

While we’re at it, if we’re naming the virus after a country that had an incompetent response to the outbreak, we could easily call it the American virus. Judging from the death tolls, Trump isn’t doing any better at containing COVID-19 than the Chinese government.

That said, I am trying to have patience with people, because I understand this is a frightening time for all of us. In times of crisis, it’s natural to panic. But it’s not natural for your panic to include racism.

And yes, there are some people who are overreacting, but 9 times out of 10, it’s out of fear rather than malice towards others. Stockpiling pallets of hand sanitizer isn’t going to protect you from the coronavirus. But once again, it’s a national emergency – we need to address this situation with compassion and a willingness to help. Right now, our president isn’t exactly inspiring confidence in his ability to handle the situation…which is basically his job.

We can’t fix the President. He’s on his own. But we can each do our part to keep the nation on track. Stay home. Support Asian businesses. Don’t hoard supplies. And consider voting blue in November.

Yours truly,

Belle

Belle’s Rambling #6: “Ladylike” is Overrated

Warning: NSFW

I’m writing this blog post because I am fed up. A few days ago, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube encouraging women to “dress modestly so you can attract good men and avoid the wrong kind of attention”, and I couldn’t even make myself watch the whole thing because it was the most dehumanizing, misogynistic trash I had seen. This isn’t meant to be a callout, so I won’t mention the name of the YouTuber who’s got me so ticked off, but I am going to address the views she expressed in the video because I’ve heard them way too often, and I’m sick of it.

I’m not judging this YouTuber as a person. She was probably raised to believe that this was the right way for a woman to behave. But hearing this coming from another woman made me literally shake with anger. It’s these kind of beliefs that have shackled women in society for hundreds of years, and it’s our job as women to help each other shatter the glass ceiling, not to seal up the cracks in it.

Disclaimer: this post addresses traditional gender roles in a predominantly cisgender, heterosexual society. I’m discussing misogyny and sexuality in male/female relationships, and I understand that a lot of this won’t apply to the LGBTQ+ community. I will probably write a piece on gender roles as an LGBTQ+ person at a later time, but today’s post focuses on the dynamics between straight women and straight men. Also, there’s some talk about the birds and the bees, so proceed with caution.

First of all, the YouTuber’s statement comes from the viewpoint that a woman’s only purpose in life is to attract men. She presumes that when a woman dresses in skimpy clothes, she’s trying to catch a boyfriend. Of course, this is true in some cases, but not all. The way a woman presents herself is a form of self-expression, and her sexuality is part of that expression. Sometimes, women want to look sexy because it makes them feel good about their own bodies. There’s nothing wrong with putting on a crop top because you’re proud of your toned abs – or you’re embracing your tummy rolls. If you feel good about your body, you have the right to show as much or as little of it as you like (as long as you’re not literally running down the street butt naked). It’s okay if a woman prefers to dress modestly because it makes her feel more comfortable, but she doesn’t have the right to attack women who prefer not to. The pressure to be conventionally beautiful has been shoved down women’s throats for centuries, and it’s totally okay to be proud of how you look. Personally, I rarely get dressed with the intention to look attractive to other people; I put on whatever makes me feel beautiful. Women are not merely objects for male appreciation – we are people, and we need to satisfy ourselves before we can satisfy anyone else. A woman’s sexuality belongs to her, not to the men around her.

Second, the YouTuber’s position implies that it’s not okay for women to crave casual male attention. She immediately assumes that a provocatively dressed woman is looking for a bed partner. However, there’s a lot more to sexuality than rolling in the sheets. Sometimes, people just like to flirt. It’s a playful, innocent way of satisfying human nature, and we all do it – sometimes even subconsciously. It’s like trying on an expensive pair of shoes without actually buying them and going broke. There’s a big difference between showing a bit of cleavage to a cute guy at the library and stripping naked in his bedroom and saying, “Let’s sleep together”. The YouTuber’s view actually reinforces the dangerous concept that wearing revealing clothing equals consent. It doesn’t matter how much skin you’re showing: if you don’t explicitly state that you want to have sex with this person, you have not given them an invitation to touch you. And if you’ve already started and you want to stop because you don’t feel comfortable with it, you have the right to say no.

Next, the YouTuber underestimates the ability of men to be decent human beings. I know, I know, some men are pigs. But if we don’t give men the opportunity to respect women, they’ll never learn how. On that note, the YouTuber is right: we do need to teach men how to respect us. But you can’t teach a man to drive if you never let him get in the car – you have to show him the proper way to drive without running anyone over. The truth is, straight men are hardwired to feel attracted to women. Rather than covering up because we don’t want to “tempt” men into disregarding us, we need to expect decency and equality regardless of what we are wearing. We need to teach our sons that a girl’s beauty is meant to be admired, not used as a justification to ignore her opinions and downplay her abilities. If we continue “sheltering” boys by telling girls to cover up, we are teaching boys that there’s something wrong with a girl who chooses to dress more provocatively, and when one crosses his path, he will believe that it’s perfectly fine to mistreat her. No boy comes out of the womb thinking he is superior to girls – he learns misogyny from the society around him. Ignorance and inexperience with women is not the same as respect.

It’s human nature to notice sexy people, but it’s human responsibility to treat sexy people with decency. The idea that a man can discredit a woman because he thinks she’s beautiful is absolute bull and actually has nothing to do with physical attraction. If a man won’t respect you in a bikini, he won’t respect you no matter what you’re wearing because he’s the kind of guy who probably won’t listen to any woman in the world. Your worth and intelligence don’t change just because you take off a sweater or unbutton the collar of your blouse. He’s not ignoring your opinion because he’s checking out your legs – he’s ignoring your opinion because he thinks women are inferior. Trust me, he doesn’t respect the frumpy old lady who works next to you, either; the only difference between you and her is that he wouldn’t mind sleeping with you.

A good man can appreciate a beautiful woman AND listen to her plans, views, and needs. If we try to attract husbands who are only nice to us because we cover our bodies, they don’t truly respect us. They believe that they own the rights to our sexuality – they want us to act like nuns in public, then take off all our clothes the minute they decide they’re in the mood. They expect us to sacrifice our own confidence and independence and believe we only have the right to feel beautiful and sexy when they say it’s okay. Why? Because they’re jealous. They don’t want other men to look at their wives, so they want to wrap us up like the abominable snowman until no guy can even see how gorgeous we are. Rather than taking issue with the men who think it’s okay to mess around with other men’s wives, these kind of husbands place the blame on their wives. Remember, there’s nothing inherently sexual about a naked woman. We’re all born naked; we clearly aren’t trying to seduce anyone as we come out of the womb. It’s the man’s mind that turns her into something desired, and it’s the man’s responsibility to maintain respect for her regardless of how she is dressed.

I don’t want a husband who doesn’t let me wear Daisy Duke shorts because he’s afraid another man will check me out. I want a husband who treats me so well that I would never even think of cheating on him – and one who thinks I look dang hot in those shorts.

Finally, the concepts in the YouTube video contributes to the culture of “slut-shaming”. I don’t even like using that term because, to quote the great Taylor Swift, “There is no such thing as a slut.” The idea that a woman must be chaste is merely a device men use to control women and enforce the idea that men should be in charge of women’s bodies. Men are rarely judged for posting dozens of shirtless selfies on Instagram, but a woman puts on a short skirt and the whole world burns. Women are constantly judged for having too many relationships or even just feeling physical attraction to another person because we teach girls that sexuality isn’t natural. A lot of girls are told not to even think about sex until they’re getting married, which is an unrealistic expectation given that there’s usually at least ten years between the onset of puberty and a woman’s wedding day. We need to teach girls that sexuality is part of normal life so they can learn to manage these feelings rather than being confused and ashamed of them. Studies have shown that comprehensive sex education is linked to lower teen pregnancy rates. Instead of shaming girls for being human and turning sex into something taboo, we need to inform them in an open, judgment-free manner.

A great example of the double standard surrounding promiscuity is Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. Anna, a young Russian noblewoman stuck in a dull marriage to a much older man, has an affair with the rogue pleasure-seeker Count Vronsky. Society disowns Anna, but Vronsky takes little of the blame. This illustrates a mentality that prevails to this day: If a man sleeps around, he’s a Casanova. If a woman sleeps around, she’s a whore. A promiscuous man is seen as comical; a promiscuous woman is seen as dishonorable. The problem isn’t about women showing their bodies. The problem is how men react to it.

In conclusion: Women shouldn’t have to “earn” respect from men by dressing modestly. Women deserve to be respected regardless of what they are wearing because they are human beings.

This has been a long, somewhat awkward piece to write. However, I think it’s necessary to educate all genders about how to treat each other and how they deserve to be treated. We can’t turn a blind eye to the miseducation around us. We need to teach this generation of girls to know their rights, take ownership of their own bodies, and never apologize for who they were born to be. We need to teach this generation of boys that women are humans just like them and their opinions aren’t any less valid just because they’re beautiful. One person at a time, we must tear down this toxic culture of misogyny. The revolution begins today.

Yours truly,

Belle