Monday, February 10, 2014

Figure Skating Tropes: Sequins and Makeup

Now let us hear from sports journalists making the usual whiny complaints about figure skaters' costumes and make-up..

From Slate's Justin Peters a typical quote:
Figure skating does not prize subtlety. Young women slather on makeup, load up on sequins, and plaster on huge smiles to win high marks from the judges.
He's missing the point:

It's about winning and entertainment

He doesn't understand, or care to record, that costumes and makeup are for the audience in the arena, not the audience on TV. The skating is for the JUDGES. The smiles and the sequins, and the makeup aren't for the judges. They're for the arena audience.

Figure skaters skate on a rink that is roughly 100 by 200 feet. They are skating in an arena under bright white lights, on a white unforgiving background. As in a stage performance, make up has to be big and bold to be seen some distance away. Details are unimportant because of the inability of the human eye to discriminate details at a distance. Makeup also has to be heavy to compete with the bright white light and the bright white of the ice. Television focuses on closeups so that you can see every pimple, this means the stage makeup needed for the audience in the arena, becomes exaggerated and unattractive on TV. Without makeup, the face looks like a tiny little blur if you're in the arena audience. Skaters need exaggerated makeup in order to look human on the ice from a distance. And the makeup has to be heavy to be seen under the arena lights.

Also, what's with his snark about slathering on makeup. Has he seen the Khardasians?

Now, as for the sparkle on costumes. Justin, the skaters are on a white background of ~100x200 feet, remember? Under bright glaring lights. What happens when elites skate? Tiny figures on a white background, zipping (and yes elite skaters go remarkably fast), spinning, and jumping. The sparkle is added to keep the skaters from being just a blob, and to provide some visual  distinction for the movement of the legs, arms and body. Yeah, it looks silly on TV, but it's not designed for TV, it's designed, like a stage costume to be seen from a distance.

When TV intrudes into the arena the sparkle is overemphasized by close ups. Then it's seen by the general public as 'figure skating weirdness', when really, it's classic stage costume technique for costumes viewed at a distance.

Once upon a time, skaters wore simple mono-color costumes. That was in the days when the audience was sitting up against the boards, or the first row would be on the ice.  What skaters wore was simple. You can't get away with that today in television, because snarky journalists would say, "Wow, that's so boring a costume. Where's the flair?"

Figure skaters can't win.

So, Justin, figure skaters go to the arena to compete.  The put on makeup and design costumes guessed it...the arena. If the audience in the arena was subjected to costumes and makeup designed to look good on TV, they'd be disappointed. Since the arena audience paid for their tickets, I figure that skaters should wear costumes and makeup suitable for...wait for it...the arena.

So get out from behind the computer Justin, and go to the arena and watch a competition. Then when you've done something more than watching TV, like y'know, that 'research thing' journalists are supposed to do, then your opinion will count.


  1. You will never win with guys like Justin or Slate Magazine. Some people hate figure skating and can think of nothing positive to say. My reply to them? "Keep on walking."

    1. I know I can't win. Guys like Justin vs figure skating are like republicans vs civil service. It's an article of faith. They don't want to be shown the light. It's easier and cheaper to keep bringing up old tropes. Sloppy writing though.