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Girls Wrestling: Facing the competition
February 19, 2014 10:52 AM   Subscribe

12 portraits of High School Girls Wrestlers by Photographer Aaron Lavinsk of The Daily World
posted by the_artificer (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
In case anyone is reticent to click, these are posed, face-only portraits, SFW.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:23 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Wow -- gorgeous photos! Much power to these girls.

When I was in grade 9, our gym needed some repairs. For a few days, they taught all classes in the same curtained-off half of the gym instead of separating the boys and girls.

The first day of the merged gym classes, the boys were being taught wrestling, so they decided to teach the girls, too -- in a separate group, of course, instead of co-ed. We were delicate little flowers in, I swear to God, one piece blue bloomers (except for Montreal expatriate me in my old red leotard because no way in HELL were you putting me in bloomers.)

Anyway, wrestling was FUN. They showed us some leg moves first, where we lay on our backs, feet toward each other, and twisted our legs together to grapple for dominance. Everyone really got into it. I mean, REALLY got into it. Most of us had never wrestled or boxed or had even been in a typical schoolyard fight, so being given permission to force someone else to submit to our power was incredibly exhilarating.

I remember our teacher telling us to take it easy. Then repeating herself. Then repeating herself again. I don't know if we were really out of control or not, but I do know that 2 days later, with the gym still under construction, we entered the boys' side of the gym again and were shunted off to the ping pong tables that had just been set up in the corner. The next week the gym was back to normal and it was badminton only for the rest of the year.
posted by maudlin at 11:44 AM on February 19 [19 favorites]


I like the mix of badass face and happyass face.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:00 PM on February 19


Should say "SLBF."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:12 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Number 5 is kind of adorable and badass all at once. Maybe it's just that I'm jonesing for more Game of Thrones, but I'm getting a real Brienne of Tarth vibe from her.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:20 PM on February 19


Perhaps it's just the dark background and the headgear, but it reminded me of this famous painting.
posted by elgilito at 12:25 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Those are great photos. The caps make them seem all classical old-timey (not an art historian), but the bruises and powerful gazes contrast that. Gorgeous.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:27 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Those girls are intense.
posted by GrapeApiary at 12:40 PM on February 19


More power to them. I strongly support women learning wrestling and/or self defense. My neighbor's daughter wrestled in high school in MD. Her older brother was state champ in his weight class through college. Our bodies are capable of great power, without any loss of social capital. Great post, thanks!
posted by childofTethys at 12:54 PM on February 19


I didn't find these interesting. Some of it is just artistic preference, but I think environmental portraits—in the gym, in the locker room, etc—would have been a lot more compelling. I do take his point about "minor details"; I just don't find this to have been an interesting way to present those.

They're also very dark photos. They're consistent so I assume it's a deliberate choice about tone, but it's one I dislike. It makes the photos hard for me to look at, to pick out those minor details he wants me to be focusing on.
posted by cribcage at 1:23 PM on February 19


I was not aware that there were states where there were enough girls wrestling to have them wrestle each other. That's a big step. Awesome.

I most liked the ones where the girls had fight in their eyes--especially 3, 4 and 10. They came to rumble.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:28 PM on February 19


Great. So not only can girls make me feel self-conscious, they can now beat me up. I tell you, if they ever learn to play video games there will be no room for men in this world. NO ROOM FOR MEN.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:42 PM on February 19


When I was in grade 9, our gym needed some repairs. For a few days, they taught all classes in the same curtained-off half of the gym instead of separating the boys and girls.

You had gym class segregated by sex? Is this a Canadian thing?

My high school had a wrestling team, but no girls competed. This was at a point where a high school girl wrestler probably would have made the national news, though. While I would have liked more of the atmosphere of the gym or something, I do like the suggestion in their eyes that they will hold their ground when push comes to grapple.
posted by Atreides at 1:47 PM on February 19


There's something really harsh about these photos, a real institutional, almost prison-type feel to them. I'm trying to figure out why the photographer decided to go with that look (since it was obviously an intentional choice on his part; you don't get that cold, dark, gritty look by accident) and I'm not coming up with an answer. Why make the pictures look so bleak? Was he trying to draw a line under the violence of the sport and the subjects' status as young women/girls? I don't understand. The photos are vaguely disturbing, to me.
posted by Scientist at 2:40 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


You had gym class segregated by sex? Is this a Canadian thing?

It was the thing in Montreal and Toronto in the seventies, at least.

I don't find these photos harsh, dark, or bleak at all, and that means a lot from someone who hates the dim lighting on shows like Elementary and House of Cards. The girls just glow like jewels against that setting. All the focus is on them, and yes, they do evoke classic oil paintings. Girl #1 reminds me of this, minus the weasel and plus some nose gauze.
posted by maudlin at 2:57 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I love all of these girls and I love the manner in which these photos of them were taken.

Yes yes yes to this.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:18 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm surprised that so many people in this thread see these as bleak or disturbing.

It seems, to me, that the photographer wanted to make them look badass. Powerful, confident, solid young women who don't need the lens and lighting to soften their rough edges.

Is it just that we aren't used to seeing women and girls photographed in this way?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:28 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


I don't know much about anything regarding female vs. male wrestling in middle school or high school.

I do know the remarkable, even amazing commitment required to participate in the sport.

My son, for whatever reason, has decided that wrestling is his sport. At 15, he has been wrestling for three years now. Every tournament has had a handful of female wrestlers, and, mostly, they have not won against the boys.

We are not a "sports" family. Our participation has been purely to support and encourage our son.

That said, my boy is at practice each and every day and at matches every weekend. That might not sound like such a big deal, but it is. Every morning at 6:30 or 7:30 (we never know exactly when until the previous night), I drop him off for training. Every night (maybe 6:00, maybe 9:00 if there is a match), I pick him up.

Understand, there are no holidays. There are no days off. This is pure training every day of the week.

I see the girls at the matches, and I completely feel empathy for them, but they simply don't have the upper body strength to compete with the boys. I can't even begin to imagine how much work they endure to attempt to compete with these young men. My hat is off to them.

I have seen dozens of times the frustration and tears in their eyes when they lose to less talented boys. Yet they will be there the following week, again and again.

That is a commitment and fortitude that I admire and frankly, wish I had.

Wrestling is hard.
posted by nedpwolf at 3:34 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


They remind me strongly of portraits from the Dutch golden age - so not what I was expecting!
posted by humph at 4:06 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Grappling is super empowering. Nothing gives you a sense of what your mind and body can do in the face of aggression like it can. That there's enough high school girls for a women's only meet is huge. I hope the sport keeps bringing in women.
posted by ignignokt at 4:21 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I love this. I don't find the pictures dark or bleak at all. I think if male wrestlers were portrayed this way, those concepts wouldn't even come up.

It's great to see girls being strong and tough and not-pretty, because that's what they want to do. Bruised faces, like it's no big thang. Almost like...hey, like male athletes!

And I say that as a total girly girl who would probably cry if someone bruised my face.
posted by Salamander at 8:28 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


It's great to see girls being strong and tough and not-pretty, because that's what they want to do. Bruised faces, like it's no big thang. Almost like...hey, like male athletes!

Quit calling these wrestlers 'girls', they are athletes.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:52 PM on February 19


That said, my boy is at practice each and every day and at matches every weekend. That might not sound like such a big deal, but it is. Every morning at 6:30 or 7:30 (we never know exactly when until the previous night), I drop him off for training. Every night (maybe 6:00, maybe 9:00 if there is a match), I pick him up.

Understand, there are no holidays. There are no days off. This is pure training every day of the week.


Honestly, I think your son's coaches might not be very good. He would most likely be better off without training every day, let alone twice a day, and there is zero justification for not being able to predict the training time a week out. Wrestling doesn't intrinsically require 'more commitment' than any other sport, unless you're arguing that team sports let you fall back on your teammates or similar.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:26 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


They're great photos, but as a woman who has been competing in combat sports since I was a kid, I get a bit tired of this stuff:

"the bruises, bloody noses, and black eyes juxtaposed with stylish caps, eyeliner and manicured nails."

These things are only contradictions because society has decided they are -- and only for women. But just as many male fighters care just as much about looking good and stylish equipment. Hell, look at pro boxing -- it's full of sequins, tassels, and gladiator skirts. Yet this is never presented as "Wow, he wears sparkly pink shorts and he's a fighter! Amazing!"
posted by retrograde at 11:29 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Wait, these are girls competing in a separate women's event...am I reading that right?

This seems like the opposite of progress to me: 15 years ago, there was no "girls" wrestling, so they were just competing on the "boys" team, round my area at least.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:29 AM on February 20


humph put a name on what I was trying to think of--that's it, exactly. And, yes, there's much badassery on display here; there's something young-Rutger-Hauer-ish about Green Fauxhawk.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:59 AM on February 20



Quit calling these wrestlers 'girls', they are athletes.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:52 PM on February 19 [+] [!]


Huh? They're both. Isn't that the point?

The word 'girl' is not an insult.
posted by Salamander at 5:39 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


#1 - I bet that's a chunk of tampon in her nose. 'Cause I learned it the same way.

And they all have some heavy headgear on. Figures it's Washington. In a warmer climate you wear that and you'd be on fire.

Wrestling doesn't intrinsically require 'more commitment' than any other sport
Yeah, it kinda does. The only training regimen anywhere near as hard as wrestling is swimming. And in swimming you're not expected to take a beating so you don't have to train the body to zombie follow your mind through punishment. That mental toughness. (Not that swimmers don't need it, it's just a different kind. Opposition is the water, not someone else actively working against you (I will say though swimming is more demanding. Mostly because of physical necessity, it's just plain more work albeit less punishment, but in part because you're not going to drown on a mat).
You need double sessions in wrestling, at least during pre-season, to focus on conditioning and on consistent proper use of technique even when you're exhausted. On top of that is weight management. Which is a pain for eaters, but a huge pain for muscular guys. Training someone out of football (big mass, short exertion period) into wrestling (lean mass, endurance) is really hard. It's an incredible chore to get someone to lose muscle mass and then build back a different kind of muscle.
Double sessions allow a coach to observe everyone, adapt the program to their needs and get everyone conditioned so they don't have as many injuries when they do wrestle.

That is a commitment and fortitude that I admire and frankly, wish I had.

I agree it's a great thing. We don't support it as much as we should in sports.
Learning to love training is its own reward. It's applicable to so many things in life. I get stuff for sports (my kids are sporty, go figure) and they're all about how qualified and professional the coaches are, how they train to 'win' and excellence and blah blah blah.
Like we figure our kids are going to be in the Olympics and professional athletes and they've built the system around that.
Where's just having fun? Enjoying learning? Camaraderie?

A bit back I taught a deaf kid. You wouldn't believe the outcry from parents. It's unsafe. What if he doesn't hear something and something happens? All this vague misgiving garbage. His parents and I had to really fight to keep the thing stable. In part because I'm a major league asshole when it comes to that. Don't want to learn from me? Fine. Take a walk.
But mostly because I don't buy into this 'winning' garbage. I know Vince Lombardi might disagree with me. But I think loving the grind is one thing, winning is another. You can only do your best. Do your best in training every day through the boredom, pain, soreness, tiredness, especially despair, etc. That's the habit.
And most of the time that leads to winning. Not always. There's no accounting for genetics or luck or other factors.

But we need to teach kids to love the good game. The drama of the game. The hard fight - regardless of who wins.
Because, having achieved a number of things individually and on teams myself, winning is an ephemeral thing. Very transitory. The moment you're a champion, the second after time is over and you have the trophy in your hand, people are talking about next year.

But the love of training never leaves you. And it's always there through everything you do long after competition is over.

I hear a lot of people bitch about the "everyone wins" thing and "everyone gets a trophy" which is proper criticism for meaningless contests that don't involve working hard. But too it's there whenever kids seem to have fun.

What they fail to understand is, kids will try much harder at a game than at training. If they're having fun, they'll work FAR harder. Make practice fun and you are the most gifted of trainers.
Most of the ones I watch train like people are machines or worse - like they're at work.
Horrible.

I don't know who the wrestler's parents are here. But I'd bet they're far more concerned with teaching them that tenacity and resilience than having any expectation they're going to "win" in the traditional sense. And more than likely so are their coaches.

It's such a shame we don't have more systems set up to support that. Inclusion (of girls, or whomever) is critical to the idea that working hard and achieving your best performance is the goal rather than winning at all costs.

A bit back, for a while I was teaching several classes (civilians after my regular classes). I had a few days off so I had only 1 class that day and drilled them so hard that I was panting at the end of it.
So I'm noticing people's legs tremoring, all the signs of exhaustion, etc. I'm thinking I really screwed up.
Nope. They loved it. Wanted more. They all went out for a beer afterwards and talked about how kick ass they felt because they were tired.

People really crave hard work, and more, hard work together. That shared pain thing. Really builds a team and really helps an individual discover that their limits are self-imposed.
That's crucial for personal development, especially with young people.
We're not all going to be Tiger Woods (and really, who would want to be?) so we should draw all the right lessons from sport.

Even if you lose, there's something magnificent about the grit in your eye, and the bruises on your body and getting up one more time than you're knocked down. Even if you lose. Hell, ESPECIALLY if you lose. Stepping in again after a loss takes guts and it's a lesson that will never leave you.

And these athletes, yeah, I think they get it, I think their coaches get it.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:00 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I don't find the pictures dark or bleak at all. I think if male wrestlers were portrayed this way, those concepts wouldn't even come up.

You're incorrect on both counts. I can't speak to the word "bleak," but the photographs are dark. It has nothing to do with the subjects' gender; it's an observation about tone values. I don't care for the word "underexposed" because it presumes there's some objective standard of correctness and like I said, this is obviously a deliberate artistic choice, not some technical failing (eg, ETTR). But I suppose if I'd said underexposed instead of dark, we wouldn't have been knee-jerked into sexism.

You can put a digital image into Lightroom or Photoshop and very easily see exactly how far its tones are from including, on either end of the spectrum, pure black or pure white. Just for kicks I just tried it on one of these, and sure enough. There's nothing objectively wrong with this tonal choice. I just happen to dislike it, and to think it wasn't the best choice for the purpose he's stated.

And these athletes, yeah, I think they get it, I think their coaches get it.

Yesterday I was reading an ebook by David duChemin. I will take this opportunity to shamelessly plug him—shamelessly because I have zero relation to the guy, I've never even conversed with him on social media, I just think he's a brilliant photographer and writer. His books are some of the best on photography that I've ever read. His ebooks are equally good and their layout is as good as I've ever seen. (Although there are a few typos here and there...)

Your comment reminded me of a passage I encountered last night, about thinking of a photograph having viewers versus readers:
I’m choosing here to refer to those who will one day look at and experience our photographs as readers, not viewers. While viewers is accurate and I’m indifferent to which word you yourself use, I think the distinction here forces a focus on the intentional and active interaction with a photograph, which is what I’m hoping you’ll see depth as a means of achieving. To view something is a passive activity, really the opposite of participation or interaction. My hope in my own photography is that the photographs engage people, draw them in, make them more than viewers but readers. In a good story the Storyteller provides the words and the grammar which in turn builds whole characters, settings, and plots. But it is the reader who provides the imagination, the interpretation. It is the interaction between the words and the reader that brings the story to life, and I hope my photographs will have the same chance at life in the eyes—and imaginations—of others.
It's always interesting to me how much, versus how little, various people bring to reading art. Personally I tend toward the lesser end.
posted by cribcage at 10:32 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Narrative Priorities: "I'm surprised that so many people in this thread see these as bleak or disturbing. It seems, to me, that the photographer wanted to make them look badass. Powerful, confident, solid young women who don't need the lens and lighting to soften their rough edges."

I dunno, to me the pictures don't say "powerful and confident" so much as they say "frightened and trapped". Not that I'm saying that that's how the girls actually felt, but that's what the photos portray to me. They make me think of a jail more than a sporting event; harsh fluorescent lighting, cool tones, (mostly) worried faces, overtones of violence. If the photographer was going for "powerful, confident, and tough" then for me at least he missed the mark.
posted by Scientist at 10:40 AM on February 20


If I'm reading the thread correctly, I haven't seen any women criticize the photos yet. Leaving apart the tonal issue (which normally would bug me a lot, but doesn't here, possibly because of the painterly look and the emotional resonance), do any women feel as if the subjects look frightened and trapped? I'd think we'd probably be more attuned to that perception in a lot of situations, wouldn't we?
posted by maudlin at 11:30 AM on February 20


You're incorrect on both counts. I can't speak to the word "bleak," but the photographs are dark. It has nothing to do with the subjects' gender; it's an observation about tone values. I don't care for the word "underexposed" because it presumes there's some objective standard of correctness and like I said, this is obviously a deliberate artistic choice, not some technical failing (eg, ETTR). But I suppose if I'd said underexposed instead of dark, we wouldn't have been knee-jerked into sexism.

I cannot be 'incorrect' about my own opinion.

And I wasn't making any observations about sexism, but thanks for the projection.
posted by Salamander at 7:29 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Projection? I think you've got that backward. I made a critique about the photos' exposure. You assumed that since the subjects were female, that critique must have been related to their gender. ("I think if male wrestlers were portrayed this way, those concepts wouldn't even come up.") That's sexism. Bummer if you dislike being called on that, but there it is.

And no, of course you're entitled to your opinion. My comment was about an objective fact: they're dark photos. Maybe we're talking about two different things.
posted by cribcage at 7:40 PM on February 20


I think we are talking about two different things. Probably because the context of your comment re: the photos being 'dark' didn't make it clear that you were talking about exposure.

I'm not remotely sexist. Bummer if you dislike being called on your poor communication skills, but there it is.
posted by Salamander at 7:55 PM on February 22


On the lighter side of things.....maudlin, is it wrong that I am in love with those bloomers and kind of want to dress them up with a pair of back stiletto heels and take them out for a night on the town? Plz to communicate where I can get such fabulous garment.
posted by Go Banana at 10:00 PM on February 22


[One comment deleted; cribcage, Salamander, let's drop the personal misunderstanding/miscommunication back and forth spat please.]
posted by taz at 12:07 AM on February 23


Go Banana, your affection for the bloomers wasn't shared by any of my classmates. You may be able to find a set in a thrift store one day, but I think there was a whole lot of ritual burning going on after graduation / end of mandatory gym classes, whichever came first.

I did find this illustrated history of the 20th century bloomer-based gym suit (PDF). Enjoy!
posted by maudlin at 8:27 AM on February 23


I loved these and I thought the mood of the portraits was heroic - which can have a bleak edge but is not bleak.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:57 AM on February 25


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