Usually, in this industry, it’s every man for himself, and it’s almost always a man telling you your ass is too fat at the same time he’s trying to grope it. And having a woman in charge instead of that Sackballs guy? This is as good as it gets.
While there have been many shows about show business, GLOW is one of the few series that doesn’t treat its women as disposable, as plot devices, or eye candy for problematic men. At first glance, the show appears as if it’s geared to cater to the male fantasy, but GLOW is so much more than that. GLOW, for the most part is devoid of the male gaze, and allows its women to be imperfect. It demonstrates the complicated relationship between a woman’s body and her trajectory in life, and how men in entertainment (and beyond) try to take ownership of that. Over the course of its three seasons, GLOW has allowed its women to thrive, and take charge of their bodies and careers- both on screen and off. Although GLOW takes place in the eighties, not much has changed in regards to the body policing of the ambitious woman.
GLOW serves as a big “fuck you” to the traditional roles that women have played, especially in the world of entertainment. At the moment, it’s one of the most necessary shows on television. The original series that aired from 1986 to 1989 was the first pro-wrestling show that featured an all-female cast. While GLOW puts stereotypes on blast, it wasn’t bound by the rigid standards of the sitcoms that were so prevalent during the time.
Prior to GLOW, there was a stigma against women’s wrestling, but the show managed to create a phenomenon that took America by storm. In the show that pays homage to its predecessor, Netflix’s GLOW has become a phenomenon in its own right. It has unearthed its own legion of loyal followers who recreate the looks from the show, and have found inspiration in its flawed, but resilient heroines.
What is it about both shows that resonates with viewers? Each unites a group of women of all backgrounds and body types, and allows for them to shine in their own way. Many viewers would see themselves represented on screen for the first time in both renditions of the series. In GLOW, the women are allowed to be heroes and villains in their own stories, as they each play off of their unique characteristics. For a few of the women, the show even served as a second chance, or another avenue for success when other doors closed.
Season three of GLOW premieres on August 9th, and dives deeper into the personal lives of its characters, and their handling of show business. The show delivers a fresh take on motherhood, aging, and “desirability,” which are often the be-all, end-all for driven women, especially those in entertainment. In the series’ third act, there’s less glitz and glamour, and less of an emphasis on wrestling. Instead, creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch opt to focus on the monotony of a Vegas residency, which leads to more reveals about the women of GLOW. It allows for a greater intimacy with the characters, as the passage of time becomes more evident. The new season re-introduces us to the Gorgeous Ladies, and how their lives have changed since the beginning of the series. The show must go on, but the enthusiasm isn’t quite what it used to be.
More than the previous two seasons, season three is a reclamation of time and the woman’s body. Constantly fighting for their dignity and agency, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling are continuously in a battle for ownership of their own careers. GLOW overturns a system that takes undesirable women “out to the pasture” after they reach motherhood, old age, or when no one in power wants to fuck them anymore. Since its first season, GLOW has been a haven where women don’t follow society’s, or the entertainment industry’s rules. In the world of the series, it reassures you that society may tell you to be one thing, but you’re allowed to be whatever the hell you want. Additionally, it’s been pretty cool to see the badassery of the Gorgeous Ladies permeate to the real life actresses. There’s a little saying that goes, “Art imitates life,” which is the root of the show’s Emmy-nominated performances.
The newest installment is an ode to independence, aging with grace, and creating your own table when you can’t find a seat. Notably in season three, Debbie (Betty Gilpin) fights to juggle her role as a producer with being a mother. During the residency, she finds a mentor in the casino’s entertainment director, Sandy Devereaux St. Clair, ( the iconic Geena Davis) a former showgirl turned businesswoman. Like Debbie, Sandy cares about the best interests of her performers. However, Sandy no longer clings to her past self, and embraces aging. Debbie, on the other hand, struggles to let go of her quest for perfection that she’s been following since youth.
Of all the women, Debbie’s journey on GLOW is the most transformative. In season one, she’s a stay-at-home mom, her days as an actress long behind her. At first, she seems pretty resigned to the fact that her days as a performer are over. Initially coerced into doing the show, she decides to use the opportunity for a bigger agenda- one that turns GLOW into a media empire, and establishes herself as a key decision-maker. With Debbie pulling the strings, she (and the other ladies) would no longer be subject to the decisions of fair-weather men. The Vegas residency at the Fan-Tan gives GLOW another lifeline, but it’s not the show that it used to be, and could be.
Season two saw Ruth (Alison Brie) fleeing a “meeting” with an industry big wig. Ruth’s rejection results in the network placing the show in a graveyard time slot to die. In the moment, Ruth doesn’t think about advancing her career through sex. Sadly enough, it’s painful to see that her otherwise valiant stand tanks the rest of the production.
The eerily-timed plot points coincide heavily with the #Metoo movement, and the women’s fight to take back charge of their careers- and ownership of their bodies. Both on the show, and in reality, there’s an emphasis on the fact that men tend to hold the cards in show business. Throughout the three seasons, GLOW’s life is always hanging by a thread, as men with fragile egos seek to maintain control. However, the end of season three places the cards in the hands of its women, hopefully for good. Bash (Chris Lowell) still is the benefactor of the production, but he takes a backseat as Debbie becomes the show’s mastermind.
More so than season one and two, season three is more cohesive, allowing the other women to shine. Little by little, each of the wrestlers step into their own, and find themselves in the ring. The writing of GLOW endears us to each of the women, and allows us to emphasize with what they’re going through. Carmen (Britney Young) makes a name for herself outside of her family’s wrestling dynasty. Sheila (Gayle Rankin) discovers her love of acting. Arthie (Sunita Mani) comes to terms with her sexuality, and breaks free of her family’s expectations. Debbie becomes a badass leader and career woman. Ruth, a natural leader in her own right, is being groomed to be a director. Whether she decides to take that on, is up for debate.
Reemerging this season is Cherry Bang, (Sydelle Noel) who isn’t comfortable with motherhood, and its side effects on her body. She wants to keep the momentum going in her career, and grapples with the expectation to start a family. Cherry’s decision ultimately causes a riff with her husband, but the fact that she stands firm in her decision is bold, and welcome. Cherry’s story arc is something that’s rarely seen on TV, especially since it focuses on a black woman’s choice to place her career first before motherhood.
On the other hand, Tammé, (Kia Stevens) also a mother, has worked for the majority her life. After years of pursuing acting, she finds a home on GLOW, and declares it as the first time she gets to do what she loves for a living. Despite the fact that she endures a severe back injury, she manages to find an upside. She doesn’t allow it to take her out, she finds another way to be involved in the ring.
For many of the women, GLOW is a beacon of light, an escape from a mundane existence. It’s a rare safe space that allows for women to be an extension of themselves that they usually aren’t allowed to be. The beauty of GLOW is that as much as professional (and sometimes personal) jealousy drives its storylines, camaraderie and shared struggles as women forge a sorority among the cast. Despite their differences, the women of the show unite for a common passion- for the love of performance.
GLOW doesn’t condemn its women’s life choices (particularly motherhood or lack thereof), or put them on a pedestal. It allows for its leads to be confident in their choices, regardless of the outcome. It allows for them to be complicated, messy, and at times, downright selfish. The core message of the Netflix series and its inspiration is that women can do whatever they set their minds to, and they don’t need anyone else’s permission to do so. It tells viewers that their value as women (and artists) shouldn’t depend on their looks, age, or the ability to raise children. It’s about passion, and doing whatever makes you feel good. In hindsight, GLOW is about a group of women who discover themselves and their worth through wrestling.
In a way the series says to viewers,
“I know what I’m worth and I’m not apologizing to anyone.”
Maybe we all should adopt the same mindset. A breath of fresh air, GLOW allows its women to decide for themselves, and enjoy life. With time as a focal point this season, it warns of the dangers of not taking chances, and allowing others to decide your fate for you. The women of GLOW aren’t going to let that happen, and neither should we.