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Wrestle With Body Image
Lekisha Oliver

            “Not another layover - ” I think sitting in the terminal. “The promoter is going to be royally mad! That consult with the plastic surgeon went too long.”

            I look down at the suitcase that has become my extra home and realize that home isn’t home anymore.  Have I has sold my body image with the new procedure?  It is another week before having another breast augmentation and a little bit of liposuction.

            This concern is only one thing that floats through the mind of a wrestler, but especially a female wrestler. Yes, the body image and the drive for the sport of wrestling reside inside my mind, but my shelf life is a lot shorter than a man‘s career. I have maybe ten years before I have to start actually getting more cosmetic surgery done. As if the augmentation wasn’t enough, I had to add in the tummy tuck during my last lull in bookings. What else do these promoters want me to do?

            I remember when wrestling was just wrestling. Yes, I had a pretty face, but I also had a life away from the wrestling ring. I was a journalism student you know, had one of the highest grade point averages in the class, but the wrestling bug just kept biting and biting until a few promoters finally saw one of the best matches I could get out of this horrible female wrestler from Georgia.

            The life that I had quickly changed; my school saw a resignation letter, my landlord began noticing my car being gone more than a couple days a week and the beautiful journalism student began gracing the pages of many different magazines instead of my articles. Some of the best wrestling magazines in the world just wanted to talk to me.   But the photo spreads with me in nothing but a bathing suit or even worse to photos with just the titles from the wrestlers I manage as an outfit. What was I to tell my family, especially my grandmother when she saw her loving eldest granddaughter gracing these pages that I was so proud about? My body was what I had prided myself on, but my grandmother was proud of the education and the intelligence that her loving eldest granddaughter had fought to show off.   

            But these changes were just the beginning. The travel increased, but the money did as well. I’ve had finally done what I said I wouldn’t do; sell my soul for money and for fame.

            Yes, I know this sounds harsh, but it was always the joke around the locker room with the other girls. We had talked about the ones who would wrestle in these seedy bars or in hotel rooms for the extra money while we were breaking our necks in the ring for promoters that at least did not have too many felonies to their names. That was how we sold ourselves. We sold the talent and the drive to make it to the top.

            In an article that Columbia University published in September 2000, author Alisha Adams stated the men’s market was not enough for promoter Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, but he was looking towards the women’s market as well.

            “The introduction of women wrestlers entices more women to like the ‘sport,’ but with the addition of g-strings, breast implants, and stilettos, more men are likely to watch as well. This resulted in the creation of women wrestlers such as Chyna, Sable, and The Kat, whose claim to fame is being the first woman wrestler to go topless in the ring. These women of the [WWE] run around in the daylight preaching about family life and being excellent wives and mothers, but at night they parade scantily clad around a wrestling ring, ready to kick ass and take names.”

            While Ms. Adams puts across a scantly clad ideal for women, the ladies in the Stanford, Connecticut, based company are to be ladies first. However, how is it that these women are put across as sex symbols instead of the athletes that they are supposed to be?

For example, since 1999, these ladies of the ring have put their bodies not on the line, but in the headlines of Playboy magazine. Starting with Sable, also known as Rena Mero, she was offered an undisclosed amount of money to pose for the popular men’s magazine, not only once, twice, but three times, along her own unpublished photo spread. She was just the first the pave the road for female wrestlers to show off their bodies.

            Since that time, more ladies have been offered this opportunity with four ladies have taken the offer from this magazine: Chyna, Torrie Wilson, Christy Hemme, and recently Candice Michelle. Even though these ladies made a lot of money for the pictorial, it has also put a blemish on the women of wrestling. In today’s wrestling world, most women who are offered contracts with this company have chosen to make their bodies more attractive and marketable to the target audience of males from 15 to 35.

            On the other hand, some women have chosen to steer clear of the norm and actually wrestle. Women who start out as the typical stereotype of model/wrestler have taken the proverbial bull by the horns and have learned a trade, the wrestling trade. Women like Trish Stratus went against the grain and have earned the respect of wrestling fans. Stratus, who has held the WWE Women’s Championship for six times, started in the WWE as a manager for Test (Andrew Martin) and Albert (Matthew Bloom). She had her taste for the ring and started training with former World Championship Wrestling’s Dave “Fit” Finlay and began showing a better in-ring performance with each match.

            The popularity she has achieved since debuting in 2000, Stratus has continued to turn against the idea of posing for Playboy. In a March 15, 2005, interview with WWE’s Byte This!, Stratus was quoted as saying, "I just feel that I want to leave my mark in the ring. And I want to walk away, [unlike how] people will say about Torrie Wilson. 'Oh yeah, she's the one that did Playboy.' And I don't want that to be overshadowed by anything I do in the ring. I want people to go 'Oh right, Trish Stratus. She was the greatest Women's Champion ever.'"

            A lot of the women in wrestling have wanted to take the approach of Trish Stratus. They want keep her persona personable, likeable and beautiful, but keep the sex appeal to a minimum.  I have tried the whole walking advertisement for Victoria’s Secret to finally realizing that the people will either like me or will hate me for who I am to them. I can walk out to ringside with dressed scantly and be adored or walk out there in the same outfit and be chased out of the building. But the most reaction that I have gotten is by walking out looking like a lady and giving them a mirror reflection of what they would want to be - someone who has power or someone who has intelligence. This is what the fans hate or love to see.

            The fans always see the person that is walking to the ring as a lady, a friend or a villainess that they would love to kick, or in my case have a chair thrown at me. However, when being a fan as a child, I would see these ladies and think “How can they walk out in public that that?” Sherri Martel, a former World Wrestling Entertainment manager and wrestler, walked ringside with a flair for the over the top with her flamboyant outfits and dramatic makeup or see Miss Elizabeth walk ringside and present an air of elegance and an air of grace.  Either one of these ladies were the ones that all female wrestlers in my generation grew up aspiring to become.

            Today, the ladies of the ring have to show the strength and be the ones that the next generations of wrestlers see as a role model. Women like Trish Stratus, who show that their minds, and not just their bodies, can get them to the top, or women of old like The Fabulous Moolah, who showed the courage and the strength that would overpower a man any day, give all of the future women’s wrestlers hope that one day we will be looked upon as the men are, for the performance given in the ring.

            Only time will tell when this will happen.