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The secret shame of wanting to ‘Stick It’

Get out your sparkly mascara and prepare your best Olympic podium wave. By Mary Beth Ellis
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

In the grand tradition of  “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Blue Crush,” we are now treated to a girl’s sports movie with Perhaps Not the World’s Most Appropriate Title:  “Stick It.”

The phrase refers to gluing one’s feet to the mat on the landing of a gymnastics routine, but apparently someone forgot to announce this to the purveyors of “Stick It,” the trailers of which are generously dappled with leotard stripteases, “Look!  BOOBIES!” shout-outs, and many, many closeups of female nether sections. Young hands slap Spandexed buttocks as chalk dust flitters through florescent gym lights.  One wonders why they didn’t just entitle the movie “I Am Renting This For My Teenage Daughter, And All Her Hot Friends” and have done with it.

But the film isn’t just about sex!  Is not, is not!  This is a serious movie:  It is also about extreme cycling. For this is plot device from which all these nymphettes’ bodies hang:  Seventeen-year-old “rebellious” (I quote the studio here) gymnast Haley Graham, played by Missy Peregrym, is court ordered to return to the balance beam after she and her civilization-ending bike run afoul of the law in some way. Insider trading, I’m guessing.

A “rebellious” gymnast.  Is she spelling out obscene words with her ribbon-on-a-stick? To underscore the point, in the movie poster, Peregrym shoves two fingers defiantly in the air. YAAAAAAAH!  Take THAT, Russian judge!  TWO fingers!  In the air!  Her wrist is encircled with enough leather to make Duran Duran say “That’s… enough.”  I’m not sure what sort of gymnastics-type emotion I am supposed to experience while gazing upon such a thing.  Mostly, I feel in the mood for some pound cake.

Well. You can’t judge a film by its summary or its poster children.  Perhaps the dialogue will save the movie!   Excuse me for a moment while I check the trailer again.  Okay, somebody just said “It’s not called ‘gymNICEtics!’” Never mind.

Girls and advanced-age girls will line up anyway.

Me and Mary Lou
Stick It” issues forth from writer/director Jessica Bendinger, who brought so much credibility and gravitas to cheerleading with “Bring It On.” But for females born before the Clinton administration, she plays with Olympic fire.

A difficult undertaking, gymnastics, rife with pounded knees, broken arms and stinging pride.  I should know. I myself had quite the gymnastics career, albeit entirely inside my own head. I won four million Olympic gold medals, 18,000 national championships and a mighty host of Reebok endorsements. Like many little girls who saw the avatar of our babysitter singlehandedly annihilate the entire Soviet Union with one vault in the summer of 1984, I begged for gymnastics lessons. 

My parents, recognizing that I had the flexibility of particle board and a warriors' spirit primarily displayed in soccer games by crying and flinging water bottles in the event of a loss, instead propelled me to stardom in the form of a 75-rpm “Fun Fit Mary Lou Retton Workout For Kids,” random portions of which, I say with not a little bit of shame, I can still perform ("Kick step, kick step, and reach! Way to go!").

I have fallen from gingerly executing pirouettes on the back of the living room couch to champion-caliber ingestion of Krispy Kremes. But even for those who do not share the emotional burden of having once, in desperation to be gymnastically discovered, begged a Phys Ed teacher to watch a plucky run down a set of hard mats in order to power a handspring that ended with a glorious backsided thud, “Stick It might cause some uncomfortable seat-shifting.  Why must gymnastics suffer so?  Because sexualization + trivialization + soundtrack by Blink 182 = cracking good times!

Then again, perhaps we can’t blame John Tesh for exhaling “Little girls… dancing for gold” during a promo for the 1996 Summer Games.  It is, at times, difficult for anyone take seriously an Olympic event in which the female participants take the floor looking like they were styled by Mrs. Hinton’s afternoon kindergarten class on Bring Your Own Glitter Day.

Gymnastics, figure skating, dance: They’re athletic endeavors, but ones in which achievement partially hinges upon presentation points.  They demand a warm, feminine exterior over an interior of solid granite. You might shatter your femur, but your eyeliner had better not smear in the process.

Indulging in guilty pleasuresBendinger isn’t the first to run down the tracks as the “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes” train chugs past.  We have “The Cutting Edge”; we have “Ice Princess.”  Before that were Esther Williams and Sonja Henie.

There is a reason why my finger hovers over, but rarely depresses, the “arrow up” button on my remote control when I surf past “Flashdance.” Something about the dramatization of women achieving our male-ordered, ultimate sense of femaleness in prissy costumes wrenches from my professor’s body the soul of the seven-year-old who just wanted pretty hair. 

There’s a reason why Disney makes approximately one bazillion dollars a year on plastic tiaras rather than federal judge Halloween costumes. Movies of the “Stick It” genre are flung like Mardi Gras beads to girls and grown-up girls like me who once lay on the carpet imagining themselves graceful and sparkly, but in actual practice had all the elegance of a drunken Grand Canyon mule. You wake up one morning and you’re suddenly standing behind a lunch counter or on a bare office floor or in a classroom instead of atop an Olympic podium. 

I have reached the end of the article now, which grants me a sterling opportunity to show off my podium wave, perfected after many thousands of medal ceremonies conducted at the top of my desk chair. Elbow, wrist, elbow, wrist; smile mistily to the far reaches of the crowd; unsuccessfully blink back tears of joy and exhaustion. My greatest triumph since my most recent Olympic gold in Ladies' Figure Skating, obtained last Thursday by waving my arms in time to “Carmen” while inline skating through an empty parking lot.

Mary Beth Ellis still pirouettes on occasion, but mostly she teaches college in Central Florida and writes for .