Unladylike: A Grrrl’s Guide to Wrestling by Heather Von Bandenburg

October 11, 2019

Many wrestling books feature wrestlers telling the story of what happened in their careers, but none have matched this for explaining what being a wrestler is actually like.

Unladylike works because of what it is and what it doesn’t try to be. Bandenburg mainly wrestled for the Lucha Britannia and Burning Hearts promotions, neither of which are widely classed as whatever counts as mainstream in modern British wrestling. Simply telling her in-ring story might have had a limited audience. Similarly, the book doesn’t try to be a comprehensive history or examination on feminism in wrestling.

Instead it’s a very personal account of what wrestling means to Bandenburg from her lived experience and perspective. It’s an incredible rounded and self-aware portrayal that doesn’t merely cover the more commonly discussed psychological effects of escaping reality to portray a character and work with a crowd to create emotion.

Instead it also covers body confidence and the effects – both positive and negative – on human physiology of both performing and training in pro wrestling. It’s one of the most detailed accounts of what wrestling training really involves, the challenges it presents, the rollercoaster of emotions and physicality that comes with struggling and succeeding to pick up different aspects of pro wrestling, and the sheer joy and magic of working with an opponent to create an illusion from two parts that would look ridiculous in isolation.

With the possible exception of Mike Quackenbush’s Headquarters, there’s never been such an engaging wrestling autobiography that’s devoted so much of its space to events outside of matches before the paying public. Yet that’s largely the point as the book explores how being a wrestler interacts with and shapes Bandenburg’s “real” life.

The book ends with a thirty page overview of the history of womens wrestling. It’s a good primer and helps put the book into context, though it does have a few incorrect dates that may irritate some readers. There’s also a series of illustrations by Jules Scheele to demonstrate moves and holds for readers who may be unfamiliar with wrestling bouts.

Indeed, Unladylike manages to be that rarest of things: a book that will engage both dedicated wrestling fans (even those who carry it in a plastic bag) and people with little or no knowledge of the product. I don’t just give it the highest recommendation for readers of this blog, but it’s also a must for anyone with an open mind who doesn’t yet “get” professional wrestling but is curious about understanding its appeal.

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One Comment

  • René October 11, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    As a trainee myself, I have to say I *loved* this book and it was a great reminder of *why* I loved training for pro wrestling in the first place. The sheer joy she describes the first time some of the things she was learning “clicked” or the feeling of “I’ve never done anything like this before” – and then doing it – felt extremely familiar, heartwarming and most of all, genuine.

    Nowhere does Heather attempt to be more interesting that she genuinely is, nowhere does she try to hide her own faults or those of the promotions she works for – or those of pro wrestling in general, for that matter – but her riot grrrl attitude and sheer humanity shine through in many places, making this one of my favourite wrestling autobiographies so far.