wrestling

In Support of Nia Jax: Why Representation Matters and Fans’ Body-shaming Must End

I know it’s been said a million times—I know.

But the body-shaming that some wrestling fans do needs to stop.

Luckily, I have surrounded myself on social media around like-minded people. Fans that do not body-shame, slut-shame, or any other kind of ugly behavior that is primarily directed towards women. We enjoy the wrestling, the storylines—and even when we don’t, I have never seen anyone on my timeline body-shaming the wrestlers because—obviously—their body type is irrelevant to our enjoyment, or lack thereof.

Unfortunately, not all wrestling fans are like myself and the people I follow. With the addition of Nia Jax to the main roster, some people have decided they do not like her. Now, this dislike is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps they do not like her character, her promo skills, her wrestling. Realistic criticisms are acceptable, as long as they are not exclusive to the women on the roster. Female wrestlers are subject to a lot of critique and tend to bring out the worst in many fans. It is not uncommon to see (male) wrestling fans tearing down the women of WWE (and likely other wrestling promotions as well). They complain about their wrestling abilities, they see them as nothing but models or just as women who slept their way to the top. This rhetoric has been around for years, and it will likely never go away. However, Nia Jax presents a different issue to these fans and their sexist attitude.

Nia Jax is “not like most girls.” While I’ve found this slogan problematic in the past—what’s wrong with most girls?—I understand where she’s coming from when she uses it. Nia Jax is different than the other women on the roster. At six foot tall and with a billed weight of 240 pounds, it is not difficult to see how Jax contrasts greatly with Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair, and the rest of her contemporaries. However, this contrast should not be seen negatively. Jax’s look is an important one. While women might not be able to relate to her heel gimmick, many of them can relate to her appearance. Jax defies WWE’s stereotype. When a person thinks of the “typical” woman in WWE, they think of a woman who could be on the cover of a fitness magazine. The image of Nia Jax is unlikely to come to mind.

However, the image of Nia Jax is not a bad thing, by any means. She proves that you don’t have to be stick-thin to make an impact in the wrestling world. She shows women that no matter your body type, you can be confident, fearless, strong, successful…You can be somebody. This message is important because women are constantly being told we have to look a certain way, act a certain way, to get anywhere in life. Yet here is Nia Jax, dominating any wrestler she is set to face.

Such dominance was especially displayed in the lead-up to WWE’s 2017 Royal Rumble and Nia Jax’s match itself. For weeks, Jax terrorized former Raw Women’s Champion Sasha Banks. Banks, a multi-time champion, is considered one of the elite female wrestlers right now and arguably of all time. As a wrestler, she makes people care about and root for her. Banks serves as an inspiration to young girls that want to wrestle. You see it on her Instagram posts—young fans dressing up like Banks, their hero. Nia Jax did what every monster heel is supposed to do: destroy the competition. She did just that with Banks, targeting and exploiting any weakness or injury “The Boss” had. If Nia Jax is supposed to be part of the future of the women’s division, she must be built up, she must look strong. Defeating someone of Sasha Banks’s caliber helps achieve that—and again shows that women who look like Jax can be successful.

Of course, Nia Jax has her detractors. Such is the case for any wrestler, but, as previously stated, women have it worse. Nia Jax, as a wrestler who is “not like most girls,” gets a significant amount of hate. Recently, on the Voices of Wrestling forum, someone took exception to Jax receiving a push and defeating Sasha Banks.  Praising Banks, a forum member said she “has proven to be capable of putting out 4 star and higher matches. She’s a special talent.” This is great praise, and many people would agree. However, he—as I’ll presume the person to be male—goes on to tear Jax down. Starting off by saying she’s “just a rookie” is fine, but he does not stop there: “Nia is literally just a fat person in a gut restricting onesie with no charisma.” He refers to Jax as a “fat slob” in another post. In yet another, he says he hopes Nia Jax “returns to her job in the KFC Drive Thu.” This is not valid criticism: it is hatred. It is a hatred of women who are not pleasing to the male gaze. Say you think she is green in the ring, say you think she needs help on the mic, say she is a rookie who is not ready to receive a big push.

But do not under any circumstances make this about Nia Jax’s body.

The reason why these people do not like Nia Jax is merely superficial. They hide behind claims of her being a bad worker, but if that was the main substance of their argument, there would be no need to attack the wrestler’s weight. Does Kevin Owens have the most desirable body in the world? Does his appearance matter? Does his body type get in the way of fans enjoying his work? The same applies to Nia Jax. If a male wrestler’s body type does not create any outcry, then neither should that of a female wrestler.

When a person shames a woman like Nia Jax for her body, they make it clear that women are nothing more than objects. We exist solely for male consumption, and if we do not fit their desired image, we are in the wrong. This sort of “criticism” is harmful. Speaking this way about someone, particularly a woman, sends the wrong message. This language tells women, young and old alike, that they have no value if they do not look a certain way. Putting such a message out there can lead to an array of mental health issues, namely eating disorders. An estimated 10 million women suffer from eating disorders. 50 % of girls, ages 11 to 13, view themselves as overweight. 86% of people who suffer from eating disorders claim an onset by the age of 20. No other mental illness has as high of a mortality rate as eating disorders. Body-shaming contributes to these facts. Shaming Nia Jax in turn shames millions of women—many of which are young girls—around the world, allowing them to create a warped view of themselves.

Moving forward, Nia Jax will hopefully play an essential role in WWE, a company that sorely lacks in representation already. With a huge audience, filled with people from all different walks of life, Nia Jax is important. Though she is a minority in her workplace, she represents far more women than her co-workers do, telling the world women can do and be whoever they want in a world where so much misogyny exists.

Nia Jax does not wrestle to be included in men’s fantasies. She is not on television to satisfy random men who lust over women on the Internet. She does not put her body on the line to be sexualized and objectified.

Nia Jax does not exist for you.

Women do not exist for you.

 

*This article has also been published on FightBooth.

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