GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012) provides the history and reveals the heart of GLOW, one of the 1980’s most campy television programs. Although I was a fan of wrestling as a child, I never knew about GLOW, a show that featured an entirely female cast of wrestlers. The show, which kicked off in 1986, was a flash in the pan, and rapidly gained popularity before it was cancelled in 1990. Although the program was only around for a few seasons, it had an immeasurable impact on the lives of its performers. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is all about how this bizarre little show made an indelible impact on the personal lives of all those involved.
GLOW’s creators made the show in an effort to capitalize on the success of female wrestling events in amateur wrestling rings around the world. These events were often sideshows and relatively rare, yet drew a large crowd. An open casting call was put out, with the producers looking for attractive women to fill their rosters. Although many of the women chosen were actresses and models, they went through intense physical training with wrestling legend Mando Guerrero. Those that made it through his crash course in entertainment wrestling scored a position on GLOW. As mentioned, many of the women were actresses simply looking for a job, but some, such as the women who played Matilda the Hun and Big Fiji, were athletes. Fiji was an Olympic shot-putter and Matilda the Hun got her start in amateur wrestling rings in the 1980’s, but was never allowed to wrestle with the men.
GLOW was a bonafide 1980’s fever dream, combining WWE style wrestling, ridiculous characters wearing outlandish outfits, and its own corny theme song rapped by the cast. This combination of ridiculous elements proved to be a hit. GLOW’s often scantily clad performers, and the over the top comedic skits, catered to both children, and a male college-aged audience, who devoured the camp and the eye candy with gleeful enthusiasm.
However, GLOW was not all sunshine and roses. During the interviews many performers dig up unpleasant memories. Their lives were strictly controlled. They had curfews, fines for staying out late, and they were not allowed to fraternize with the other team (GLOW was split into the good girls vs. the bad). The ‘good’ girls could not speak with the ‘bad’, even in their time off. Furthermore, due to the budget constraints, the wrestling ring was a cheap construction of plywood and mats, which led to several injuries among the performers.
Although at times it’s a little too corny to bear (we get to see Matilda the Hun don her old outfit and threaten the cameras), this documentary revels in the over-the-top fun of its subject matter. Indeed, the true magic of this film is that it is more than just a timeline. It delves deeply into each woman’s emotional connections and bonds of friendship they formed. These elements helped them grow not only as performers, but as people too. The film is at times unexpectedly moving, documenting the lives of the performers from the 1980’s up to present day. Despite GLOW’s premise, these women each attest to the fulfillment, strength and empowerment they gained through their involvement with the show.
GLOW may have been short lived, but it left an indelible impact on the women involved. Their stories of friendship and personal empowerment are the fuel that makes this documentary so captivating.