The irresistibly tawdry world of GLOW

In New Column by John Tebbutt

The colourful hijinks of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

To call the wrestling of GLOW fake is to miss the point. It’s like calling Adam West’s Batman TV show fake. Everything is so unreal and over-the-top ridiculous that it’s clear nobody is trying to take this stuff seriously. These are cartoon characters leaping off of turnbuckles in evening gowns.

GLOW (short for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) was a lunatic TV program that ran from 1986 to 1989. There had been female wrestling prior to this, but those women mostly seemed to be taking the sport seriously. Here, there was a vague semblance of actual wrestling (the ring, the bell, the referee, etc.), but we were watching outrageous heroes and villains using superpowers on one another. One’s mouth falls open at the sight of it.

I recall one match in which some kind of tragic gothic princess trudged into the ring, wearing a tattered black dress and vampire makeup. She ignored the taunting from her spandex-clad opponent, tastefully arranged her veil, and lay down in the middle of the ring like a corpse preparing for burial. This inspired all kinds of jeers and boos from the audience, until the frustrated opponent came close enough for the wily Edwina Scissorhands to shoot her in the face with a jet of sleep gas sprayed from the oversized lily she was clutching to her chest. Then the pale princess sprang to her feet and easily defeated her woozy adversary. Jeez, they never check the wrestlers for magical sleep flowers! When will they ever learn?

The absolute tackiest (i.e.: best) GLOW match I ever saw was a huge “Battle Royale”-type fracas in which a dozen or so competitors all got in the ring at the same time. Instead of their usual bizarre costumes, they had on taffeta gowns over petticoats over slips over nighties over spandex. Then the bell rang, and everyone started ripping one another’s clothes off. It was a “strip match.” Last woman standing (and still dressed) wins!

Wow, I felt sleazy just being in the same universe as this thing. I was also glued to the TV set. The commentator made horrifyingly demeaning comments throughout, but was so clearly reading his zingers off of cue cards that his bitchy little insults had no real sting. He seemed particularly upset at the thought of seeing too much of Beastie, a less traditionally feminine wrestler with wild eyes and a Road Warrior haircut.

It was also pointed out that faux-British wrestler Godiva (her gimmick was being a “nudist”) was doing particularly well, and was ironically managing to keep her clothes on. Suddenly, the match ended when Godiva, inspired by all the shredded garments flying through the air, abruptly stripped herself down to her usual costume (a beige catsuit with a flower bikini sewed onto it, suggesting a TV-friendly version of “nudity”), and stood atop the turnbuckle with her arms thrown wide open, triumphantly announcing how awesome nudity is, and how everybody should be naked all the time. Since this move doomed her team to lose the match, her joyous proclamation was drowned out with boos and hisses from her teammates, which nicely drowned out the boos from the studio audience who had just realized that this was a pre-1990 TV show, and that there was never any chance of actual nudity in the first place. It was amazing.

GLOW went off the air ages ago, but there are plenty of YouTube clips proving to the world that this was real, and we didn’t dream it. There’s also a brilliant documentary (available on Netflix) called GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012) that I urge you to check out. The original GLOW performers all return to tell honest, funny, sometimes heartbreaking stories of their wrestling years, and it is fascinating.