On a recent SNL the lovely and talented Amy Schumer lamented about the lack of role models for young girls. I’d like to have it noted, for the record, that I have been on the Amy Schumer train since ‘08. She basically summed up how sad it is that the Kardashians is what little ladies have to aspire to. Schumer herself is admittedly not a great role model to say a nine-year-old girl. Which got to me scan TV to find one. I guess Taylor Swift is OK – obvious ones like Hilary Clinton or Malia are fine. But what about a pop culture one? Something fanciful but still based in reality. Someone who vanquishes evil doers on a consistent basis. Designed for a girl who, say, is too old for Dora the Explorer but too young for Homeland. Somebody you can buy some merchandise and dolls for and talk about on the playground.
When I was a boy, a heavy-set lad being somehow both shy and loud, I had tons of TV role models. There were lots of beefy comedians or cops who were heroes to watch on a weekly basis. In pro wrestling, literally tons of heavy men used their girth for fortune and glory. Wrestling has gone through lots of phases, from violent blood sport to tawdry burlesque. It now finds itself in what is known as the “PG”-era where it is a slightly risqué live-action cartoon and comic book but not as overtly violent and sexual as it was fifteen years ago.
They have marketed women wrestlers as “Divas”. They have their own championship. Their own E! reality show, Total Divas, following the backstage escapade. These days wrestling is written by former writers of Conan, Friends, Melrose Place, and movies. The Divas have bounced around from being bit players to sex kittens but usually always hyper-sexualized and backstabbing “bitches”. That is on the flagship RAW show.
The smaller scale wrestling show, NXT, has figured out what a “diva” should be. And that is where we find perhaps the greatest role model for young girls and society in general: Bayley. Bayley is my girl. She is amazing. I will try to convey to you why, but it may be difficult. I am at heart a sardonic person. I ridicule everything. Feeling feelings is hard, who wants to do that? Mocking stuff is way more fun and easy. I can’t mock Bayley. Those who do, I will fight. She brings goodness out of everyone who comes into contact with her. She is OK looking. Not ugly but not the Maxim-model type that most “divas” are. She is fit but not jacked up. Normal, cute, nice-girl looking. In wrestling you have to be part fighter, acrobat, gymnast, dancer, silent movie performer, mime, etc., etc. Bayley has these amazing facial expressions that denote vulnerability and determination. All coupled with a humble earnestness. She is a plucky, underdog type. Her character started off as this naïve, cutesy wrestler that was in way over her head. Then, something caught on with her and the crowd. Her entrances to the ring are a spectacle without being superfluous. She has the most infectious, bouncy pop music walk-out song. Not a lot of lyrics to it and they repeat a lot so its perfect to memorize. As she walks out inflatable puppets like you see outside a car dealerships rise from the floor. She hands out hair-ties and slap bracelets to her young girl fans as she makes her way to combat. There is no snark with Bayley. Nothing hip or edgy. She is just this happy wrestler who manages to be sweet without giving the audience diabetes. To the girls in the crowd, I would say between the ages of 6-13, she is their everything.
The NXT show is filmed in a small arena on a college campus in Florida. The audience is about 75% males in their twenties. For the most part, these are the people who find it cool to boo good guys and come up with clever and vulgar chants in the crowd. But not for Bayley. Everybody gets caught up in it. When you are a kid, you don’t want to like kid stuff, but you still kind of do. It’s special when grown ups like it. That’s what makes Bayley so much cooler. When a little girl sees adults cheering for her favourite it makes it legitimate. Bayley’s schtick is that she’s a hugger. That’s what her merchandise is based on. Her attitude is very positive and all about self-esteem. Life is fun! Wrestling is fun! Don’t live the thug life, live the hug life!
But every shero has a shenemy. Enter Sasha Banks, the ultimate villainess. She is the cocky fashionista, driven to ring in an Escalade. Always blinged out, peppering her smack-talk with her catchphrase, “Like a boss!” She ridicules Bailey for not being as rich, beautiful or as good a wrestler she is. Classic mean-girl, bully archetype. This puts Bayley and Sasha on a collision course for the women’s championship. Bayley won it from Sasha at a massive event in Brooklyn in front of 15,000 people. But Sasha claims it was a fluke! The rematch would be back at the college in front of a few hundred people in what is basically a big studio. It would last a half hour, 3 times longer than other matches. And for the first time ever, the women’s match would go on last, making it the main event of a prime time special. Which in wrestling is a really big deal.
Bayley’s number one fan is Izzy. An eleven-year-old redheaded girl who sits in the second row with her big bearded dad. She has all the Bayley merchandise you can buy and Bayley makes sure to give her a hug and another slap bracelet before she fights. Izzy’s whole arms are covered in them. Izzy couldn’t go to Brooklyn to see her shero win, so being in person for the rematch is a huge deal. Women’s wrestling is a little less brutal than men’s, there is a lot of tumbling and flying , but it is still pretty physical. Sasha gets some applause from the live crowd. The crowd tries to be a part of the show but can really hijack the production if they want, and do on some occasions. Sasha, being the ultimate performer, has a conniption in being a villain. Hipster college kids be dammed. She rams Bayley’s face into a scoreboard, then goes up to Izzy in the crowd. Sasha rips the hair bow Bayley gave her off of Izzy’s head, puts it on her own and mocks her right to her face. Even the most grizzled fan would have to jeer this. Izzy loses it. The camera picks up her raw crying fit. Her old man picks her up and tries to soothe her but the little girl is bawling. Bayley comes back though, they go at it tooth and nail and the shero wins. Izzy sees that the Sasha has lost and is back to rocking out to Bayley’s theme song as her eyes are still red from tears.
Now let’s really go for it. A normal match – the song plays and we go off the air. But this the first women’s main event so it’s special. The entire roster of wrestlers (male and female) come out on a stage across from the ring . Sasha walks out defeated but everybody gives her applause on her effort. She is given a bouquet of flowers. Then HHH – the head of NXT goes to the ring to give Bayley the title belt , a slightly bigger bouquet and raises her hand. And everybody goes nuts. I mean, I lost it. I fucking wept for this woman. As did most in the crowd and Bailey weeps herself. Everybody is clapping along to her songs. A lot of people, not just youngsters, are in tears too. After they went off the air, the online reports indicate that Sasha went up to Izzy, gave her a flower and fist bumped her. And the crowd lost it again.
Bayley is one my favourite characters on TV and for some reason the one I am most emotionally connected to. Not in the romantic sense but in the broader energy of the universe sense. I do love her, and especially what she stands for. Bayley does lose, and gets beat up. She has her positivity questioned but then again don’t we all. She is part fantasy and part very real. Bayley has the uncanny ability to have her own objectives but carries the weight of her followers hopes as well.