WWE Column: The Natalya "Ugly Duckling" gimmick and Be a Star



By Adam Johnson

It’s no secret that in today’s society, image plays an important role in one’s life.  Whether it’s the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair or simply the way the look, people are quick to judge with the explosion of social media and the ability to remain hidden or anonymous on the internet.  Cyber bullying has become an issue in recent years with hurtful language being spewed forth more often than ever before.  It’s rather easy for someone to make claims against someone from behind a keyboard where they are protected from being attacked for their own faults, yet this idea of pointing out the flaws of one’s self is persistent in our culture to this very day.  WWE has made an attempt to curb said bullying with their impressionable young audience by promoting their Be A Star Campaign, created in conjunction with the Creative Coalition.

From WWE’s own website, this is their mission statement:

 “Be a STAR (Show Tolerance And Respect) was founded by The Creative Coalition and WWE in April 2011.  The mission of Be a STAR is to ensure a positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness. Be a STAR promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect because everyone is a star in their own right.”

WWE does have the ability to change perceptions in society based on their own content and what they choose to promote or, likewise, refrain from airing.  Now, as a wrestling company, there are only so many ways WWE can tell the “Good guy vs. bad guy story” without it becoming redundant, repetitive, and monotonous.  It’s David vs. Goliath or some breakout star that fans want to see succeed.  With their inclusion of the Be a Star campaign as promoted on their website (though admittedly has not been pushed on their flagship show as often as it used to be), they should be able to follow the guidelines listed as a part of said campaign on their own show.  Is it unreasonable to believe that WWE should be able to follow through with these promises?

This past week on RAW, WWE aired multiple segments in which the Bella Twins called Natalya, “The Ugly Duckling” and then proceeded to use a duck call making fun of Natalya during their match later on in the night, causing enough of a distraction for her to lose and look on despondently towards said twins.  While on the surface it might seem harmless to have them poke fun at her looks, there is much more at stake than appears at the surface.

The hypocrisy of their Be A Star campaign is full-fledged during this segment.  From their own mission statement,

“Be a STAR promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect because everyone is a star in their own right.”

WWE wants to have their cake and eat it too.  They want to appear in good faith making a concerted effort towards curbing bullying, yet they continue to air such storytelling and programming in order to garner attention for their divas.  WWE’s writing suggests that to women, their body image is what is most important to them, and if a diva, or any woman for that matter, does not fit their criteria of beautiful they must be considered ugly.  What does this say about both the women that watch and the men that have an unrealistic view of the female form?

The WWE Diva is not the average woman, and rightfully so.  They are required to perform on a regular basis and image should be important to the brand they are representing.  But pointing out those that might be different because they don’t fit the form of beautiful or good-looking based on their pre-disposition of what is considered attractive displaces those that are not in WWE, which is a majority of women.

Yes, I am aware that WWE is attempting to tell a story and have the Bella Twins be perceived as the heels, but there are plenty of ways to portray or develop a story rather than poking fun at someone’s image that might be different.  WWE could learn a thing or two from it’s own Be A Star campaign,

“Furthermore, The Alliance debuted Be a STAR Chapter Toolkits to help schools and communities start their own Be a STAR chapters. The free kit includes a guide on how to start a Be a STAR chapter, suggested activities, resources, a poster and other useful tools to combat bullying.  The chapter toolkit has been downloaded by more than 4,000 students across the country.”

If they have this content accessible to them, why are they not using it to write their own programming?  Why allow for such irresponsible writing to even come to fruition?  Plain and simple, WWE does not follow their own protocol to write their own content.  They will gladly put themselves on a pedestal promoting themselves as this great company that is about anti-bullying and everyone must be treated equal but that idea doesn’t cut it with such lousy writing.  Nearly any other trope would be perfectly fine for a potential feud between the Bellas and Natalya.  The Bellas could use twin magic to beat Natalya, they could cheat in another fashion, but pointing out one’s alleged physical flaws does nobody any good.  It’s the same when Vickie Guerrero was constantly being labeled as fat by Jerry Lawler on commentary.

Image does play an important part in everyday life.  People are making judgments constantly based on each other’s looks, and while unfortunate, it is a part of everyday life.  WWE could do much more to curb said behavior but they choose to turn a blind eye when it’s convenient for them.

According to anand.org, a website regarding eating disorders, the following statistics are downright shocking and apply to WWE as a media device for men and women:

“The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.”

“The body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females.”

“69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.”

Why is this important you ask?  Image has become exponentially more important for the female talent with the debut of their new show, Total Divas on E!  They are now in the spotlight more than ever as no other talent has a show designed for their own brand like the divas do now.  WWE needs to recognize the important role they play as they mold young minds and create perceptions of body image on a weekly basis.  With the idea that they can make fun of Natalya as an “ugly duckling” and get away with it because they are a form of entertainment is both insulting and reprehensible.

From WWE’s Website:

“Through the Be a STAR website, over 30,000 people from all 50 US states and from 91 international countries have taken the pledge to end bullying through WWE’s Be a STAR program.”

Yet WWE fails to acknowledge their inability to end bullying on their flagship programming by continuing to air questionable content.  Though it might just be a simple annoying duck call, it resonates with those fans that see themselves as inadequate or incapable of being beautiful in the eyes of WWE.  It’s shortsighted, degrading and offensive.  It’s a shame WWE feels the need to belittle someone based on what they perceive as deficiencies because of the high-school locker-room mentality that still permeates the WWE to this day.  Natalya is currently their best in-ring worker yet they choose to define her by what they choose is important, instead of letting her stand out on her own based on her unique characteristics and ability inside the ring.  WWE has a long way to go before their divas division becomes interesting again, and with the addition of the Total Divas show, it’s going to get much worse before it gets any better.

Long-term, what are your thoughts on Lucha Underground?

 

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What did you think of Lucha Underground last night?