Japanese Women Professional Wrestlers' Embodied Experiences and Their Identities

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 412
Oral Presentation
Keiko AIBA , Meiji Gakuin University, Yokohama, Japan
Women professional wrestlers in Japan develop muscles as well as fat for professional wrestling. As a result, their bodies are very different from the ideal female body in Japan (i.e., thin bodies without muscles and fat).The author conducted in-depth interviews with 25 women wrestlers between 2004 and 2005. Through interpreting women wrestlers’ narratives, the author explains how the bodies of women wrestlers provide them with physical and/or mental strength. Women wrestlers who acquire physical strength are indeed "empowered” based on the definition of empowerment. Kubota (2005) argues that “empowerment” means the process where people who have been prevented from fulfilling their potential regain it. In the current Japanese society, most women cannot reach their potential in terms of physical strength. In contrast, women wrestlers have obtained a physical strength not yet acquired by most women in Japan. Therefore, women wrestlers are in fact empowered. On the other hand, some women wrestlers face several conflicts because their bodies disturb the normative sex-gender boundary which requires that if one is a biological female, one has to adopt “feminine” clothes, hair style and physique that let others perceive that one is a female. First, some cannot fit into cute clothes sold in Japan that are targeted only for the ideal female bodies. They, however, do not take it seriously because they gave priority to becoming a wrestler. Second, some are mistaken for men in daily lives. The reason, they believe, is that they have specific physical characteristics such as short hair, casual clothes and big bodies. Since they decisively identify themselves as women, they want others to perceive them as women regardless of their physical appearance. They, however, do not attempt to change their bodies to let others perceive them as women. Therefore, they unintentionally challenge the normative sex-gender boundary.