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

UnladylikeForget what you think you know about wrestling.

In the world of Heather Honeybadger, aka Rana Venenosa, there are no steroids, no tans, no million-dollar contracts – there is only lycra, a sweaty underground club and an unbreakable resilience. From the day that Heather steps into the ring of the punk wrestling school Lucha Britannia, she finds herself transformed into a person she never knew she could be.

How do you become a wrestler when you hate sports so much you can’t do a press-up? What makes feminists and wrestlers both mortal enemies and unlikely best friends?

For the first time, an independent female wrestler talks in depth about how she went from a sad, lost riot grrrl to an empowered, persevering fighter who has performed across the world. 

Despite being a teenager during the famous ‘Attitude’ era of WWE, I’ve never really ‘got’ wrestling. I can appreciate the showmanship and skill involved but, as a sport, it’s just not one I’ve ever really understood. Which probably doesn’t make me the obvious target audience for Heather Bandenburg’s memoir Unladylike, a chronicle of her life in the ring.

And yet, despite having next to no knowledge about wrestling – and even less about the Lucha Libra tradition that Heather becomes involved in – I thoroughly enjoyed this smart, witty and, at times, hard-hitting memoir about a young woman finding her identity and her place in the world through her absorption into the wrestling world.

Because, whilst Unladylike is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of London’s indie wrestling scene, it’s also an incredibly identifiable personal story about finding what makes you happy, and coming to terms with the varied aspects of your own personality and your place in the world. Heather is unflinching in her portrayal and touches on issues of gender, sexuality, personal identity, self-belief, confidence and anxiety as she discusses her involvement and development within the world of female wrestling.

She also offers a considered examination of the trials that come with defining yourself as a woman in a male-dominated environment, casting a critically appraising eye over the history of women in the sport, and the struggles that many of them still face today.

Full of anecdotes and packed with fascinating details of life behind the scenes, Unladylike is also a riot to read. By turns funny, self-deprecating, insightful, it’s packed with sharp observational humour that makes for an easy, page-turning read. Sort of the reading equivalent of sharing a few drinks at the pub with a friend!

There’s also a series of great appendices at the end of the book explaining common wrestling terms, providing a brief history of female wrestling, and offering diagrams of moves – it was a useful addition that quickly helped to explain any terminology and really helped me appreciate the effort and skill that goes into each and every wrestling match.

A fascinating biography that offers a unique combination of personal memoir, sporting anecdotes, and feminist critique, Unladylike is a witty and enjoyable read that packs a surprising punch. Wrestling fans will, naturally, find much to enjoy here but, for those of us not familiar with the sport, Unladylike still has plenty to offer. If you’re looking for something a little unusual to add to your reading list, then you won’t go far wrong with this.

Unladylike by Heather Bandenburg is published by Unbound and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Unbound Shop, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to the author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

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