For many young girls in America, the seemingly glamorous world of cheerleading in professional sport is an alluring one.
Dancing in front of thousands of fans under the bright lights of big stadiums and TV cameras, dressed to the nines, while setting the scene for the biggest names in sport sure sounds like a dream gig.
But for some NBA cheerleaders, the reality is more like a nightmare, news.com.au reports.
Former dancers in the popular American basketball league have opened up about the horrible conditions they endured as they battled eating disorders, harassment, abuse and poor pay.
In an expose by Yahoo Lifestyle's Abby Haglage, more than a dozen NBA cheerleaders lifted the lid on the profession's dark underbelly they say resulted in body shaming and emotional scarring.
Former Milwaukee Bucks cheerleader Lauren Herington, who was just a teenager during her short stint with the franchise, revealed her coach used to send her to a closet to make her think about what she was doing to lose weight. She also claimed if she was thought to be carrying extra pounds she would be forced to do a "jiggle test" in front of her colleagues.
"My coach would make me sit in there (the closet) before games and think about if I was doing everything to be able to lose weight," Herington told Yahoo Lifestyle. "You know, basically like a child in time-out.
"She (her coach) would come up and grab underneath my butt or the side of my belly. She'd be like, 'Lose five pounds by tomorrow, and you'll be fine.'"
Herington is one of many cheerleaders with horror stories to share. Just because they made the cut after auditioning for an NBA team, the hard work and desperation to succeed was only beginning.
The pressure to look good is part of a toxic environment conditioned at some franchises by regular weigh-ins and other measures. Alanna Sarabia was part of the San Antonio Spurs cheerleading group from 2011 to 2012 and said some dancers weren't given a uniform to fit their measurements, instead told to fit into the kit of an old dancer even if they had completely different body types.
The Phoenix Suns' Madison Murray admitted she developed an eating disorder but was so desperate to keep the job she'd dreamt of having for 15 years, the overwhelming pressure to do whatever was necessary to stay there consumed her.
"Once you get in that position, you want to do everything you can to keep it. But it takes a toll … it was a rough life," she told Yahoo.
Tales of girls developing eating orders and starving themselves so they weren't left out of the squad as punishment for being too heavy are also rife. One cheerleader reportedly walked in on a teammate who had passed out in the bathroom because she had been throwing up her food.
Some of the cheerleaders who spoke to Haglage in her feature didn't have such negative experiences but the majority did.
The pressure to meet high physical standards wasn't the only problem for the cheerleaders Haglage spoke to — making a living was also difficult. Herington said the pay was abysmal, especially when individuals had to pay for beauty treatment out of their own pocket to meet the coach's expectations of what they needed to look like.
She was so determined to expose the real culture within the Bucks' cheerleading ranks she led a class-action lawsuit against the franchise in 2015 that resulted in Milwaukee settling for $US250,000 in lost wages to approximately 40 cheerleaders.
The NBA isn't the only league to be tarnished by accusations of poor treatment of cheerleaders. In August, the director of NFL team the Houston Texans' cheerleading squad resigned in the face of allegations from former members that she routinely body-shamed them — allegedly calling them "crack w****s" and "jelly bellies", and even duct-taping one woman's stomach so she would appear thinner.
Altovise "Alto" Gary stepped down from her role after she was named in lawsuits by former cheerleaders who said they weren't paid for all their work and that they were ridiculed for their looks,
One of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in May, a cheerleader named Gabriella Davis, told Vanity Fair that Gary called the cheerleaders "crack w****s" if she thought they over-dyed their hair "too blonde" or had too much makeup on.
"Instead of saying, 'You know, girls, let's watch what we're eating,' we're called 'jelly bellies,'" she said. "And instead of saying, 'Let's watch what we're posting on social media,' we're called porn stars or crack w****s. It's not OK to be speaking to us like that, regardless of what I signed up for."
In April the New York Times published a deep dive into the dark culture within NFL cheerleading.
Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders had regular weigh-ins and Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders in recent years were expected to remain within 1.5kg of their "ideal weight".
A handbook provided to Oakland Raiders cheerleaders reveals they can be fined or docked pay if their boots are not published on game day or if they forget part of their uniform.
"The club's intention is to completely control the behaviour of the women, even when they are not actually at their workplace," explained Leslie Levy, who previously represented cheerleaders who sued the New York Jets and Raiders.
"It's an issue of power. You see a disparate treatment between the cheerleaders, and the mascots and anyone else who works for the team. I can't think of another arena where employers exert this level of control, even when they are not at work."