It’s time to have a conversation about photoshoots. Yes, those photoshoots. Anyone knowledgeable of Joshi puroresu as a culture and market is likely aware of the various other avenues of entertainment it navigates, one of which being modeling and photography. Promotions utilize photobooks, and posters of their stars posing in costumes of varying themes and styles to help increase their audience and generate additional merchandise.
revenue. One of the most highly anticipated photoshoots each year is from World Wonder Ring Stardom, with talent eagerly posting promotional sneak peek selfies and hints until official publication.
But in a world where standards either demand complete objectification or absolute shame towards women for expressing themselves and owning their bodies, it's not uncommon for problems to arise and true colors to be shown.
It comes as no surprise that these pictures receive a wide spectrum of reception in Western culture.
Take the interaction between TJPW’s beloved Maki Itoh and Jim Cornette, for example. Immediately after insinuating Itoh’s screen time in AEW was due to lose claims of fetishization, Cornette called her a deity of shit. The wrestler replied with a lighthearted photo indulging in what appears to be a great deal of melted chocolate, owning the new moniker. Her response was ill-received by the original poster and his fans, who considered the photo a disgrace.
Likewise, the Stardom stable Cosmic Angels elicited controversy among certain circles of fans with their “Cosmic Rules” match, a kind of water fight where opponents wore bikinis to the ring.
But what really is so disgraceful about it?
A recurring stigma among Joshi puroresu is the idea that the entertainment aspects that have become an integral part of its style, especially those tied to modeling, idol, and sometimes even sex work, invalidates their work as professional wrestlers.
The fact of the matter is, ideas that women can show off their bodies and also be good wrestlers are not mutually exclusive, and never have been. To assume so is heavily rooted in misogyny. Photoshoots and matches which celebrate their appearance as athletes are nothing to be ashamed of, nor scorned in any way.
The duty of pro wrestling is to entertain and tell stories in the context of competition and athletics. To limit the ways in which wrestlers are allowed to reach their audience is a disservice to them and their expression. Women’s wrestlers deserve full bodily autonomy and control of their image and have the right to do as they please and be marketed as they please, and Joshi is no exception.
This ties into another set of issues which Joshi face on the opposite end of the spectrum, where fans become far too invasive and hypersexualize them. There have been countless occurrences where a talent will post pictures from a photoshoot and receive a slew of unwarranted and inappropriate comments, replies, and responses.
While the purpose of the photoshoots is to celebrate sexuality and bodies, respect still has to be a crucial aspect of such celebration. Performative allyship for women’s wrestling is especially evident in these moments. Rather than supporting these women unconditionally, there are many occasions where a female wrestler’s attractiveness becomes the sole reason for fans’ attention.
From a personal perspective, I once saw a picture of two wrestlers sharing a moment after a match with their backs to the camera. It’s a touching photo— a sign of mutual respect, a beautiful story— quoted by an account that thought the picture was the funniest thing they had ever seen. It took me a moment to understand exactly what was so humorous, and when I did, I was incredibly disheartened— the reason the image was so funny to the user was because they had different body types.
Moments like these are not only damaging to those online who may see it and feel self-conscious, but to the wrestlers themselves. To lose respect and decorum for these women and their work is just as detrimental as shaming them for it.
Of course, there are clear nuances involved— consent, age— that have to be considered throughout conducting photoshoots and posters. The importance is about choice, and the ability for Joshi to make decisions about when and how their bodies are seen and celebrated.