In WWE’s Attitude Era and for several years after, the Divas primarily served as eye candy. All they needed was enough athleticism and smarts to work a match, but the crucial thing was presentation. So long as they were appealing and photogenic, opportunities would present themselves. Fast forward to the modern day, and we see women’s wrestling taken more seriously after fans coerced management. Thanks to some of NXT’s best, AJ Lee’s Twitter game and TV mishaps, the time had come to implement equality. Women could become household names while working main events, and prove they could do everything it takes to be a top WWE Superstar. For a while it seemed to work, with the likes of Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Alexa Bliss showing they could play the part.
They didn’t need to work bra & panties matches, or act as Vince’s latest mistress. No longer were they subservient or being viewed as pieces of meat. Fans could appreciate them for their wrestling skills and character work. But yet, somewhere along the way, the drive to push the women’s revolution has waned. I feel like women’s wrestling is still appreciated, but has fallen down the pecking order after the novelty wore off. When WWE is allowing talented wrestlers like Toni Storm, Ruby Riott, Mickie James, Dakota Kai, Ember Moon, Mercedes Martinez, Tegan Nox, Taya Valkyrie, Chelsea Green, and more to be let go, we have to question WWE’s vision. Also, there is something to be said about a recent comment made by Ember Moon.
“… and we’d have to sit through stupid meetings about how we would have to dress sexy. And I remember looking at someone else like ‘I cater to children. I am not about to wear a fishnet booty butt cheek shorts because we had a two-hour meeting about how to dress like Mandy Rose.’ That’s not fair. Not everyone is going to be Mandy. Mandy is absolutely phenomenal, and she’s an amazing person. But not everyone is Mandy Rose. I started seeing this downslope as soon as Hunter was gone, and like for the first little bit, we didn’t know why he was gone. We just knew he wasn’t there, you know? I got so angry. And I remember sitting there and I was like I did nothing wrong. I didn’t piss off Vince.”
WWE’s push for sexier looks has been clear for a while. Not only that, but there has been an accepted and almost encouraged push for enticing images on social media. Keep with me, because there will be a gallery showing you what I mean. And this isn’t exclusive to women, as other superstars like Finn Balor are likely still employed because they draw the eyes of those who appreciate the male form. When the site shares collections of Instagram images, they often draw the most, and WWE knows this too, which is why it has plugged them on TV each week.
Over the past few years, superstars have pushed the boundaries of how much skin they can show, and this is gradually making its way on to a product meant for a family audience. They can get away with this because there’s no rating on social media, so it’s WWE slyly plugging a sexier image on its young audience without breaking the rules of a PG rating. It’s far from sly on NXT 2.0 though, as Toxic Attraction flaunts its stuff, and the cameras get up close and personal with the thickness of Nikkita Lyons. There’s more to this, but before we get in to NXT, let’s look at the main roster.
The last image is not only a dig at those who criticized Paige for having plastic surgery on her face, which she vehemently denies, but at others who go this far. She has admitted to having Botox, lip fillers, and having her breasts enhanced, but will defend herself to the end if anyone mentions her having any face work done. Meanwhile, many active and former WWE Superstars have felt the need to get elective surgery to enhance their features, including: Carmella, Dana Brooke, Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Maryse, Alexa Bliss, Nikki Bella, Eva Marie, Stephanie McMahon, and possibly Vince McMahon himself, although the latter hasn’t been proven.
Carmella is an odd case. Not long after getting work done on her breasts, WWE nudged her toward wearing a mask in the ring. This gimmick seems to be getting phased out, but they did it because Vince doesn’t like her face, wants more focus on her body, or a mix of both. As the self proclaimed most beautiful woman in WWE, it was a confusing addition. There was little reason to have the mask on, unlike Cody Rhodes’ undashing gimmick, when he was made to have facial reconstructive surgery after breaking his nose. This tells people watching that Carmella is insecure about her face, feeling the need to protect it in the ring, although a flimsy little mask isn’t the best defense.
With Dana Brooke, she criticizes the haters by saying:
““My biggest Flex is I’m secure within … I don’t listen or let anything effect my state of mind! People wanna guess stuff is about them and come back with some dumb shit- NEWSFLASH I don’t waste my breathe or talk negative, I state facts where it matters and it’s not on you! – People wanna come on here saying – I look different, I’m fat, I’m skinny, I got to much work done, I look better this way, or that way!!
ITS HARD WORK- MOST DONT UNDERSTAND WHEN YA LOSE WEIGHT.. ya lose weight in your face! Haven’t touched my face .. don’t plan on it either – no nose job, no lips in over 2 years, no facelift- I bust my ass everyday like I have been my entire life and SECURE WITH WHO I AM .. and what I’m about!!! No one needs this Body-shaming that I’ve seen all week long with women! It’s sad! And in FACT it means ur not secure about YOURSELF! So I know what imma do.. Is flex on. CONFIDENCE IS KEY.”
It’s fairly obvious Dana Brooke’s had work done, so it’s confusing that she would say she hasn’t. I’m not pointing any of this out to say that having plastic surgery is wrong. Everyone has the right to look how they want to look, and it’s not mine or anyone else’s business to tell someone if they should. Yet, it doesn’t stop people having their opinions, and it feels to me like there is extra pressure on women in WWE to have work done, so they are more likely to get opportunities.
Charlotte Flair has had several surgeries, including having her breasts enhanced and reduced after having issues. Lately, she has been sharing images without makeup, and has fired back several times at body shamers. There’s clearly a lot of care to look the part on TV, but not so much on social media. This is different for Natalya, who has undergone a big change in the past year. Whether this is because of the online appearances with her sister Jenni, or wanting to up her attractiveness on TV as she heads toward 40 years old, Natalya feels the need to enhance her face and breasts to catch the eye. It worked for Nikki Bella, who did the same and got an enormous opportunity as a long-time Divas Champion.
With Alexa Bliss, it’s because of a long-time insecurity with her body. Being in the WWE environment can’t help with that either. When presentation plays such a pivotal part, Bliss having her breasts enhanced didn’t come as a surprise, although many would say she was already exceptionally beautiful. Ironically, WWE covered her up and took her down a dark path with Bray Wyatt, so it’s not like this changed anything she was doing.
It’s not just those who have had work done. When WWE relaunched Liv Morgan, her image was not exactly PG friendly, what with her leather outfits and her being naked in a bubble bath. More recently, in her tag team with Rhea Ripley, we all know what was going on here. BDSM much? And they wore this matching outfit at WrestleMania.
Now, I’m not saying the entire roster is like this. Becky Lynch, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Bianca Belair, and several others don’t go down this route. With Doudrop, however, or Nia Jax before her, there seems to be a lack of opportunities because of their weight. I saw a comment from Nia Jax today about this subject. This echoes Ember Moon’s sentiments that there are several perverted people in management. They aren’t interested in pushing someone who doesn’t want, or can’t play the part because of their weight.
It’s a shame, some people deserve to get the opportunity to shine like the star they really are, but unfortunately certain higher ups can never see past their own perverted ways. Too bad, there aren’t the lucky ones who can use blackmail to keep their jobs. *random tweet*
— Lina Fanene (@LinaFanene) April 30, 2022
It’s tough to take Nia Jax seriously, but I think it’s interesting to see what those like Ember & Nia can say now they aren’t under contract. To round out the main roster, there is also a lack of time on premium live events. When the women’s revolution started, there was a shift toward giving more time. What happened at WrestleMania 38? Each of the women’s titles were defended, but the tag titles got 10 minutes. The celebrity matches got more than that.
Rousey, Flair, Belair and Lynch got enough time on night 1, but neither matches were the main event. Since it was first introduced, the women’s Rumble has not been the main event of the Royal Rumble. The drive to provide women’s wrestling is such that unless you’re one of The Four Horsewomen, Rousey or Belair, good luck getting any opportunities. The rest have to resort to catching the eye of thirsty fans on social media. Look at Zelina Vega. She won the Queen’s Crown tournament, but is treated as an afterthought, even while holding the tag titles with Carmella.
There was a time in NXT when wrestling ability in the women’s division mattered. While Mandy Rose has improved a lot, I don’t think she’s on the level of a Dakota Kai or Io Shirai; with the latter being left off TV for a long time. Kay Lee Ray (now Alba Fyre) has been featured enough, but something tells me she won’t win the women’s title soon, despite being leagues ahead of most. If this was the old NXT, Io Shirai would feud with Kay Lee Ray for the title, while Sarray mixes it up with Roxanne Perez to become #1 contender.
What do we have instead? Toxic Attraction members are the champions with no sign of being beaten soon. In fact, Gigi Dolin & Jacy Jayne just lost and reclaimed the tag titles from Raquel González & Dakota Kai… and look where they are now. There are no other tag teams to challenge them, except Valentina Feroz and Yulisa Leon, perhaps? But they aren’t ready for that yet. Who is ready for Mandy Rose? I do not know. WWE clearly has no intention of pushing the best wrestlers, otherwise Sarray wouldn’t be losing terribly to Tiffany Stratton.
Natalya is back in NXT to mix it up with Cora Jade. Which isn’t that bad, although she’s really young, and it feels like WWE is rushing her. She will also work with Nikkita Lyons, who is pretty green, although there is potential there. WWE has shied away from developing independent wrestlers because they have “too many bad habits”. Triple H recently said they had been down this route and wanted to look elsewhere. NXT 2.0 is likely to get a ton more athletes with no prior wrestling experience through the NIL (Next In Line) program soon.
Do you know what the NIL program reminds me of? Tough Enough and the Diva Search. WWE scoured the world looking for those with athletic backgrounds which they could develop. This just cuts out the middleman of having to televise it. I looked at the success of these searches in previous pieces. Aside from a few gems here and there, WWE rarely found anyone with the passion to do this week in, week out. Most talent found in these searches flopped so hard it was a waste of time and money.
Like anything, it’s best to find people who love doing this and have experience. WWE is allowing these people to go elsewhere because it feels like that pool has dried up. Instead, we’ll get track athletes, cheerleaders, footballers, Basketballers, and amateur wrestlers, with the latter making the most sense. We’ve seen guys like Goldberg transition nicely from football. Current AEW TBS Champion Jade Cargill jumped over from basketball, but how often does it happen? Super rare. They need an impressive look and have the patience to go through a ton of training. Even then, fans resist them because they didn’t work their way up the wrestling ladder to their lucrative spots.
With an emphasis on selling sex (especially on social media) and less care for wrestling skills or background, it feels like WWE is on that slippery slope back to what it preferred. Progress has been made, though, because women’s wrestling is much more respected. I don’t think WWE can get away with throwaway matches anymore. Yet, it feels like being a professional wrestler in WWE has become a hindrance again, unless you have the appeal to back it up. If you’re a Japanese female in NXT, you’re probably contemplating a move back to Japan at this point.
It’s all about looks and no substance, which is what women’s wrestling has fought so hard to break. Gone are the days of Bayley and Sasha Banks tearing the house down in NXT PPV main events. I’m not expecting anymore women’s main events at WrestleMania. The Divas era is creeping back up on us, and it’s on us to decide if that’s a good thing or not. Because it’s not a crime for women to be sexy, and it would not be right to say that men like Rick Rude can be praised, while women are looked down upon and labelled slutty.
I think it works to have some women sell themselves in this way, but it’s not right to push those who don’t feel comfortable being told what to wear. Like Ember Moon said, not everyone should aspire to be Mandy Rose. Wrestling thrives if everyone can be themselves, and as soon as you tell everyone to work or look a certain way, everything feels the same and no one cares because nobody is unique. Allow the wrestlers to get over by wrestling, while the Divas get over by being hot.
Mix those approaches together to create something which promotes equality more than ever before. Getting around PG programming limits on social media is a little disingenuous on WWE’s part, but I suppose you can’t argue with the numbers. This subject is pretty broad, so I’d be interested to know your take on this. Is WWE heading too close to the sun with how it features women? Has it lost its way with the women’s revolution? And should it be looking to keep the wrestlers over those who look hot on an Instagram post? Please let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading! See you again.
PS: Check out this gallery of NXT’s hottest attractions which highlights the direction WWE is heading with its next generation.