12:50-1:10: “See It, Say It, Sell It: The visual rhetoric of professional wrestling”

Sarah Turner McGowen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern State University.

Professional wrestling has a storied history of producing iconic looks, from the yellow tank top associated with Hulkamania to the black trench coat of The Undertaker. Wrestling outfits, or ring attire, are intricate creations that communicate layers about the persona (both in-and out-of-ring) of the wrestler.

This project explores the ways in which professional wrestling ring attire communicates gender norms while maintaining and supporting the narratives provided on screen. Additionally, this project expands the usage of visual rhetoric as a tool for critical analysis. Studying the use of clothing, hair, and makeup design, I argue that fashion is used to reinforce or reject cultural norms, including gender performances.
Since professional wrestlers often occupy the role of “face” or “heel,” the visual rhetoric communicated through the image of a specific wrestler may be tied to notions of “good” or “bad” gender roles. To better understand this phenomenon, I adopt a visual rhetoric approach, extending Foss’s (2005) definition to demonstrate that wrestling fashion is both rhetorical and aesthetic.

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