The women’s snowboarding events have come to an end at the Beijing Olympics, and anyone who watched is likely forever changed by all that big-air bravery and beautiful group-hug sportsmanship.
Not to mention the winning hair-strand game.
As even the most casual viewer may have noticed, pretty much every woman competing in a snowboarding or freestyle skiing event rocked the same look: strands of hair pulled out of their helmet to frame her face — strands that stay where they’re put, beautifully , no matter how many 360s or double corks she executes.
Cheekily known as “slut strands,” they’ve been the look on the slopes for many years now, embraced, no doubt, since the sport had always been dominated by men.
Still, the precise history is elusive — even for Elsa Watkins, 26, founder of a Denver-based activewear company called the Slut Strand Society, who has, in the past week, been considered the de facto spokesperson for the style. Her phone de ella has been “blowing up” with people wanting to know more about the term, in use by the free-ski and snowboard community since the early 2000s, she says.
“I genuinely wish I knew where the term ‘slut strand’ initially started, but I nor anyone I ask can pin it down,” Watkins tells Yahoo Life. “l knew the phrase from as early as middle school and my friends and I rocked the strands. Why? Because otherwise, we looked like little boys under all that snow gear.”
Back then, she explains, there was not much outerwear on the market for women offering the “free-ski/snowboard aesthetic we were all chasing.” So, “we wore the men’s gear, pulled out two strands of hair, and rocked the occasional silk ribbon to signal that we were ladies. It was as simple as that.”
Raised in Colorado among skiers and snowboarders by a mom who owns two ski shops in Crested Butte, Watkins and her siblings were put on skis “as soon as we could walk,” she says, adding, “The ski/snowboard industry is very male -dominated, so from a young age my mom instilled in me that, in our world, my femininity, drive and unapologetic nature are my biggest assets.”
And for those wondering how such a feminist, and other badasses like Watkins, could ever embrace the term “slut strands,” she has a theory.
“I’m sure that when the term came to be, it had more of an edgy connotation to it. But honestly, skiing and snowboarding was edgy in general,” she says. “Our culture back then was a bit lawless and capitalized on being provocative and pushing the rules. So, did we necessarily like the hairstyle being called slut strands? Nope. But, the term wasn’t ever going away, so we got to squash slut-shaming and reclaiming our strands.” Now, she says, the style is “a beautiful symbol of community” that she’s seen across all genders.
“Those two strands of hair bound us all together, and that is pretty special,” she says, adding that watching the world react to the look on snowboarding Olympians has been a thrill.
“What is so fun about all the ladies rocking them in the Olympics is that the look feels normal to us, but to the rest of the world, those tendrils are new, exciting and even confusing,” Watkins says. “It has been insane watching the Slut Strand Society snowball as people across the globe gain curiosity and a desire to join the party. So yes, we are seeing it a lot more.”
Even those who never hit the slopes can find evidence of that across social media platforms, where skiers and snowboarders are following the Olympians’ lead and celebrating the look.
Joked Slut Strand Official, the Instagram account of “salty Utah lady locals” who offer “scathingly observed” local mountain culture, “I want to be treated equally on the mountain but I also want to let everyone know I’m a girl in case they want to buy me a drink at the bar later.”
TikTok has also been flooded with young women sharing their strands, with some offering tutorials on how to get them just right.
Says Watkins, “We are at a pivotal point in the outdoor industry, where we call out its deeply rooted exclusivity. We no longer want to be defined by the gear we own, the mountains we conquer, the medals we win. We want to be kind, welcoming, and inclusive to all who wish to join in the fun,” she says. “It is so much deeper than just a hairstyle.”
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