Arts & Culture
Yes, I Know It’s Fake: Confessions of a Recovered Pro Wrestling Addict
Why no one will let me forget an embarrassing teenage obsession Read More
Olympic season. For you, this might mean a chance to express your deep love for your country, maybe through a new Ralph Lauren outfit. It might be a rare opportunity to watch Taekwondo on national television. But for me, it means the return of one of my least favorite questions: “So, are you so excited for Olympic wrestling? Or do you only like the fake kind?”
I’m almost 25 now, and I have watched wrestling no more than four times in the last six years. Still, to people who knew me when I was a teenager, this is my legacy. When I run into someone from middle school or summer camp on the street, the small talk inevitably turns back to my fling with professional wrestling.
When I was 13, I asked everybody I knew to describe me in two words. All but two gave the exact same response: Smart and Nice.(a) So, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that people were pretty weirded out when they found out that I was also a passionate, borderline obsessive, professional wrestling fan. To be specific, I was a fan of the organization formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), now called World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) after losing a lawsuit against the World Wildlife Fund.
But that was all a long time ago. No one asks me if I’m still into The Chronicles of Narnia (yes), Tamagotchis (no), or treasure hunt birthday parties (hmm … maybe next year). But, because I am Smart, and Nice, and, of course, a Lady, the fact that I was really into this one television show for a few years turns out to be a pretty big deal.
So, you may ask, how did I get into WWF anyway? That’s easy. My little brother watched it. Every Thursday night he tuned into WWF Smackdown!, and I sat with him, making fun of the fake chair shots, shiny spandex (b), and screaming, ‘roided up dudes. But soon I started asking questions. Like, why did the CEO of the WWF secretly orchestrate the kidnapping of his own daughter as part of a Corporate-Goth conspiracy with a crew called the Ministry of Darkness? And what is a Con-Chair-To? He made the fairly reasonable point that rather than interrupting him, I should shut up and watch the show. So I did, and a new world opened up for me.
I realized that the WWF was actually the greatest, most elaborate soap opera on television, and I was hooked.(c) I went from watching Smackdown! on Thursdays (two hours a week) to spending about 20 hours a week watching (d) or reading about wrestling online. I was so serious about it that I used to tape Friends so I could watch Smackdown! live.
At first, this was my dirty secret. If I got caught checking one of my beloved forums at school, I changed the screen and pretended I was doing homework. Here’s a story I’ve never told anyone. I once sent a question to Molly Brown, my favorite online wrestling columnist at the time.(e) Molly actually wrote back, told me that she loved my letter and wanted to write a whole column in response. But, I had written my question anonymously, could I send her my name so she could include it in her column? I did respond with my name, but it must have gotten lost in her inbox. So Molly wrote her column, dedicated to an anonymous reader.
My heart was broken. One of the reasons I loved Molly’s column was because it was so exciting to see another lady who was passionate about wrestling. It didn’t bother me that Molly’s column didn’t use my name, but it killed me that she kept referring to the inspiration for the column as “he.”(f) I felt like I had missed my opportunity to proclaim myself as part of the small sisterhood of hardcore wrestling fans.
After that, I let go of my secret. I decided being the only girl in my high school who could recite every Royal Rumble winner was infinitely cooler than just being another smart and nice girl. I sat in class and drew elaborate diagrams based on wrestling plotlines. I convinced friends to watch it with me (usually only once), and I even wrote my college application essay about WWE. I fantasized about my future writing pro wrestling storylines, where I would translate my real-life friendships (and romances—I was madly in love with this dreamboat) with the wrestlers into plotlines.
The peak of my wrestling mania lasted about 5 years. Then Chris Benoit, one of my favorite wrestlers, killed his wife, son, and himself in an episode probably spurred by steroid use. The Wrestler came out. Things like bra and panties matches started bothering me, a lot. And I got bored of watching fake fighting.
I moved on, but my reputation did not. OK, I sort of get it. The WWF wasn’t exactly a common interest, and I was pretty hardcore about it. I also get that one could argue writing this article is just asking for the questions about my ex-hobby to continue. But really, this summer I just want to watch gymnastics and Ryan Lochte like the rest of you. So if I run into you on the street, can you ask me about that instead?
(c) This isn’t the time or place to go into detail about why I loved wrestling. But The Masked Man’s column on Grantland does the job much better than I could.
(f) I don’t have any statistics about what percents of wrestling’s audience is female. But check out this article for an example of how deeply wrestling and maleness are linked together.