Who You Calling a Lady?

The Great Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah, NYC, 3/25/05

The Great Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah, NYC, 3/25/05

I just read that Mae Young (that would be the Great Mae Young), professional wrestling champion and Hall of Famer, died nearly a month ago, in Columbia, SC, age 90. The headline of her New York Times obit called her “unladylike.”

Often cited as the best (and perhaps the dirtiest) competitor in her sport, she learned to wrestle (and play football) with the boys in high school in Oklahoma.  Her first professional match was in 1939, her last time in the ring, 2010.  Fierce (when that meant strength and stamina, not attitude), she preferred real fighting to artifice.

Few things are as dangerous to the preservation of the order of things as an “unsocialized” woman, a woman who just doesn’t give a damn about the requirements and constraints heaped on her gender.  Mae Young, decades before women were wearing “boyfriend” jeans and pantsuits, dressed in men’s clothes, smoked cigars and earned her own living–as a combatant.

Still fierce when I photographed her with her long-time friend, wrestler and promoter, Lillian Ellison (better known as the Fabulous Moolah and who died in 2007), Mae stood with crossed arms, her third finger subtly extending from her left hand.

Lately the culture is convulsed with the issue of how broad can the accepted standard of female beauty be and are real women’s bodies ok?  Redefining what’s attractive, accepting the way women actually look–that’s good.  But the problem remains that we’re still, obsessively, endlessly talking about women’s looks.  We need to change the subject.

When I saw that Barbie was chosen as the cover model for the 50th anniversary issue of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue (on a newsstand near you next week), I thought it was a parody, and really funny–the Onion in action.  But it’s real–Mattel’s idea, paid for (no one at either the toy company or Time Inc. will say for how much).  Ah, synergy.

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