After publishing her acclaimed memoir “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget,” Sarah Hepola, who grew up in the Park Cities, returned to Dallas, and, among other things, she writes regularly for Texas Monthly.
Her new endeavor, the magazine’s eight-episode podcast America’s Girls, is the story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, one of “the best tales to come out of Dallas,” she promises.
Hepola writes that the project proved “a journey that would take me across the past 50 years of history—across changes in women’s lives, in media, in the city of Dallas and the country itself.”
I venture a good portion of us who were little girls in the 80s in North Texas recall these haze-shrouded voluminously long-locked goddesses — tanned legs for days, white boots perched atop a high kick, the cleavage-perfecting navy knot — on our dads’ and big brothers’ posters, calendars and playing cards.
Hepola sure does. As she puts it, “In other towns, at other times, I might have grown up staring at royalty or beauty-pageant queens. But in the blackland prairie of North Texas, in the late seventies, I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.”
This Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders story is audio only, which is important to Hepola and her sources.
She describes the typical moment at the start of an interview with a former cheerleader.
“‘So is this a video?’ they’d ask, watching me assemble my metal cranes of sound equipment.
“‘No, this is audio only.’
“’Oh good.” I could feel them relax, and they’d sit however they wanted in the chair, and not worry about whether they were wearing lipstick or their hair was a little messy.
“’This,’ I’d say, taking a seat across from them, ‘is about your voice.'”
In episode one, we’re treated to Hepola’s fine-tuned prose and unmatched perspective. I’m left nodding my head, wanting more. Here’s a taste:
“The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders became America’s Sweethearts, a very Texas hybrid of pageant beauty, good girl etiquette and come-hither slink. They brought sex and glamour into the gladiator arena of modern sports. They launched a wave of imitations across the NFL. Dallas became synonymous with their look. The big hair, the razzle dazzle, it’s a blueprint for beauty that’s branded on my brain. It’s probably branded on yours too whether you know it or not. But despite their 50 years as a global phenomenon — despite being endlessly photographed, televised, commercialized — what’s always been missing … is the voices of the cheerleaders themselves.”
Back in 2017, Hepola spoke with The Advocate about her post-sobering-up move to East Dallas.
“I always thought I would move back to Austin. It was a slacker’s paradise,” she said. “A lot of what worked about it, the ease, affordability and speed, has shifted, and it felt like Brooklyn. It is competitive, with high rent, everybody fighting for a space. Dallas is the perfect place to write a book because it is nurturing.”
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