You might be familiar with the colorful lucha libre masks and the fighters that wear them. Luchadores, professional Mexican wrestlers, are real-life superheroes, even if in costume only. But not so many of us know about the babes in the ring who mirror them - las luchadoras.
A documentary by journalist Marta Franco called "Las Luchadoras" exposes the flip side of Mexican wrestling and its powerful female fighters competing for space in a very traditional boy’s club.
Sweet Lucha Libre masks hanging on a wall
Franco follows three luchadoras – Lola Gonzalez, Black Fury and Big Mama – through their training, in the ring and among their fans. Black Fury, who isn’t even 18, is featured in a series of interviews with her father, a longtime fan of lucha libre who also serves as Black Fury’s trainer.
Black Fury poses in costume
“Since she started her career, I haven’t left her, even during practice,” said her father. But he cautions against some of the misconceptions of female luchas. “Some people treat [wrestling competitions] like a bar, they go drinking … I feel it’s not appropriate for a woman.”
Despite this traditionalist perspective (not uncommon in Mexico, where women gained the right to vote in 1953), Black Fury says she feels supported on all sides. “I’m living [in] the wrestling environment, and all the risks that takes.” She talks about the danger, the struggle and the sacrifice involved in wrestling professionally – drawbacks, she says, that take a toll on wrestlers of any gender.
The luchadora Big Mama takes an opponent in the ring
Female wrestling was forbidden in Mexico City until 1986, even though women had been involved in the sport since 1940. Originally cast as sexy sideshows, female fighters have recently made a name for themselves in the wrestling world, playing the same roles that male luchadores fight out in the ring. But because of female wrestling’s relative obscurity, most women wrestlers have to travel around the country to compete in independent leagues. Only one all-female wrestling league exists, in Monterrey.
Lucha Libre originally gained popularity Mexico via Enrique Ugartechea, a Mexican who adapted Greco-Roman freestyle wrestling into the spectacle it is today in the mid 19th century. The masks for which lucha libre is known outside of the Spanish-speaking world developed in the early 20th century as the sport gained in popularity. Their origins trace back to Aztec tradition and have come to symbolize the larger Mexican identity, as described by Octavio Paz in his Labyrinth of Solitude.
Vintage magazine promoting luchadoras, "The True Queens" of lucha libre
Luchadoras have become a kind of Wonder Woman among followers of la lucha; combining strength and femininity, luchadoras represent a growing segment of women who've moved beyond what traditional, patriarchal society prescribes for them. Beyond that, though, these ladies are straight fun to watch! Check out the documentary via its gorgeous website, over the course of six videos, in both English and Spanish.
Thanks to Vice.com for original reporting and lasluchadoras.com.