Rachel Jessen

2017 - Ongoing

North Carolina, United States; South Carolina, United States

GIRL WRESTLE is a visual exploration of girls’ youth wrestling in the American South, wherein scenes captured during club practices and team tournaments are combined with portraits to create a holistic view of distinct individuals united by their love of the sport.

For a little over 30 years, women's wrestling has been on the rise both nationally and internationally. The year 1987 saw the creation of the first world championship tournament for women; according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), the number of women who wrestled in high school jumped from around 800 to over 11,500 since 1994. Women's freestyle wrestling was added to the Olympic Games in 2004; the United States had its first gold medalist in 2016 in wrestler Helen Maroulis. Twelve states now sanction women's high school wrestling, half coming in 2018 alone; young women and girls often view wrestling as a means to fund their higher education pursuits.

Women and girls involved in wrestling have been the driving force behind the growth of the sport—a sport which was almost cut from the Olympics in 2013. Despite this, there are people—inside and outside of the wrestling community—who protest female participation, especially if it means wrestling against the opposite sex.

With this body of work, I investigate questions of gender, embodiment, identity, and power. It is far too often that the experiences of young women and girls are trivialized and flattened into a single, homogenous story—a story that is not always heard or believed or respected. This project not only highlights the growing popularity of the sport among women and girls, but also complicates the nuanced experience of girlhood itself. In doing so, this work also questions larger power structures and the ways in which girls have been socially conditioned to be and how they ought to behave.

“...the body, or rather, bodies, cannot be adequately understood as ahistorical, precultural, or natural objects in any simple way; they are not only inscribed, marked, engraved by social pressures external to them but are the products, the direct effects, of the very social constitution of nature itself.” — philosopher and feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz

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