Professional wrestling and the mainstream media have been strange bedfellows for decades. Professional wrestling is a ratings behemoth on the media outlets that will have it, the media outlets love to bring on colorful wrestling superstars to reach new, young, different demographics, yet both seem at least superficially disdainful of each other in their philosophies, with Pro-Wrestling skewing toward a more right-leaning bent regarding values and the mainstream media giving a left-leaning chuckle at the "hillbilly sport" of the squared circle. Yet both seem content to agree on one thing that has rung true in both genres far too clearly for far too long: Women are a problem. Sometimes it's Huma Abedin becoming a talking point and pundit punching bag for the photographic preferences her husband, Anthony Weiner (aka "Carlos Danger", which would have been an awesome ring name). Sometimes it's AJ Lee being a "slut" for her kayfabe romantic involvement with five different wrestlers over the course of a 3-4 year wrestling career (sidebar: Is that REALLY a big number for single people? Man, the WWE announce team needs to get on OkCupid). Either way, both the mainstream media and professional wrestling agree that women are the enemy, to be mocked, scorned, and constantly, without fail, used to drive up ratings.
Which brings us to the Bella Twins. One could make a convincing argument that they are public enemy number one within the "smark" community. Certainly, the arguments against them are readily apparent: They are models first and wrestlers second; their push is out of proportion to their ring work; their presence almost always buries the roles of other, more "deserving" (a loaded term that we will hold here and pick up later). My distinguished colleague Brandon Lasher concisely takes them to task for these and other crimes against wrestling HERE, and his point is a convincing one. Yet it's one that feels oddly divorced from the reality of women's role in both media and pro-wrestling discussed above, that of a vessel for ulterior motives at best and outdated archetypes at worst.
It is with this in mind that one must consider the other side we didn't believe existed to the Bella Twins argument, one rooted in wrestling's past, its present, and its future: The Bella Twins are more than just a necessary evil; they are good for pro-wrestling.
To examine this stance, we should consider the following truths regarding professional wrestling, particularly in how they respond to, or indeed diminish, many of the arguments used to paint the Bella Twins as the epitome of what is "wrong" with pro-wrestling today.
1. The Bellas Aren't to Blame for Bad Writing or Bad Luck.
The Bellas didn't walk out to mock Kharma for her weight because they are horrible people who happen to be on television. They didn't attack Eva Marie because they're particularly sensitive. They didn’t beat Beth Phoenix because they're stronger than her. These were things that were written for them to do and say. Similarly, Kharma wasn't released because the Bellas made that decision; the talent executives at WWE did. Getting angry at the Bellas for the way that women in wrestling are written isn't even blaming the accomplice to the crime; it's akin to blaming the victim. Then again, some of what people dislike about the Bellas isn't rooted in the poor stories that they (and EVERY Diva) have had to tell over the past several years, but rather in the emphasis placed on their appearance instead of their grappling skill, which brings us to the second truth…
2. Female Wrestlers as Models First, Wrestlers Second, Isn't Just a Type of Female Wrestler; It's the Historical Norm.
This is an unfortunate truth, but it is the truth, and it is the failure to admit this truth that has done less to advance talented female grapplers than it has to diminish the achievements of women as performers on wrestling television. The fact of the matter is that many of the legends of women on wrestling television, in fact the majority of the memorable female performers, acted first as aesthetically pleasing compliments to the wrestling-focused talent. Miss Elizabeth is a primary example of this; a precious, delicate charm to the uncouth madness of Randy Savage. She has rightfully been elevated to iconic status for the role; the Bellas, better grapplers by a country mile, are crushed for the same.
None of this is to say that many female wrestlers are not talented wrestlers, or primarily talented wrestlers, or even that it isn't a fantastic progression to see women on wrestling television becoming wrestlers first, models second. Nevertheless, wrestling history is filled with women whose beauty was their primary appeal and contribution to the industry, from Miss Elizabeth to Sable to Torrie Wilson to Trish Stratus (an unpopular truth) to Eve (who, like the Bella Twins, made her renowned physical appeal a part of her character) to, yes, the Bella Twins. Hell, think of how many women came through WCW, and they didn't even HAVE a women's title after 1997. Be upset with the fact that the Bellas are a part of a history you dislike, but to brand them as the impetus of that history is unfair, as is to deny the role that history has played in bringing wrestling to the masses.
3. Because of Their Physical Appearance, the Bellas Have Celebrity Appeal, and Celebrity Appeal Is Good for Wrestling.
Let's get the first part out of the way first: The Bellas are undeniably attractive, some would say very much so. The fact that they are also identical twins makes them visually remarkable, and many magazines and photographers have taken notice of this, including Maxim Magazine and now, E!. The Bella Twins are immediately visually interesting, and because of this media outlets will always latch on to them as easy access points for the average consumer to be interested in wrestling products.
This is a good thing. I'll say that again, in case people don't understand or believe it: CELEBRITIES ACTING AS EASY ACCESS POINTS FOR TYPICAL CONSUMERS TO BECOME INTERESTED IN WRESTLING IS GOOD FOR WRESTLING. The fact that we are comfortable critiquing the Bellas for being only partially committed to wrestling as a physical craft is remarkable considering that both of the two most recent Wrestlemania pay-per views were headlined by The Rock, who hasn't been a full time wrestler for a decade. If we like wrestling, we want for it to survive so that it can continue to innovate, and that survival is inextricably tied to finding and keeping viewers. Certainly, some of those viewers are old school viewers who want their wrestling to continue growing with new talents, character tropes and storylines, but those viewers would be hard pressed to argue that a WWE in which Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, and Daniel Bryan are all on the rise has been greatly hindered in this respect by the Bellas. On the other hand, the Bellas certainly serve as an entry point into pro-wrestling for people who may not be ready for full immersion into some of the more arcane notes of the industry. Hollywood Hulk Hogan was this for me. Goldberg was this for my dad when I was young. The Rock is that for Attitude Era fans who left before getting to watch the next generation blossom. Whether we want to admit it or not, the Bellas are that for the pop culture media consumer now thanks to their sex appeal as evidenced by their headlining of "Total Divas", which is, you guessed it, yet another easy access point into wrestling. Casual viewers are going to see John Cena and Daniel Bryan and, maybe, other Superstars and WWE television. If we don't want to become Soccer Dicks or UFC Fans, fans of professional wrestling need to be understanding and, yes, welcoming toward new fans, however they arrive at the party.
4. The Bellas Are Giving New Divas Access to New Fans.
Do you like the Funkadactyls? Natalya? Do you want Eva Marie or Jojo to have a chance? Do you want more than two Divas to have things happening on television at any given time? Because if that happens it will only be because of "Total Divas", and "Total Divas" only happens because of the Bella Twins. In the midst of AJ Lee making the Divas division as interesting as it has been in a long time, we have a program that is giving other Divas the exposure to make them familiar names, and more familiar female names means more women's wrestling in general. None of that happens without the instant brand recognition of a pair of very attractive twins.
If we're going to say "it's business and they get eyeballs on sets" when the Rock, Brock Lesnar, or Undertaker headline wrestling's biggest stage, there's no reason we can't be happy when the Bellas do good for what has, unfortunately, been wrestling's smallest.