UFC Octagon Ring Girls: Pure Spectacle Or Necessary Tradition?

Diply 19 Jul 2017

If you watch UFC, you definitely know who the ring girls are. Not only do they hold the round cards up between rounds, but they also tour around and host UFC events, especially the weigh-ins.

Where do the Octagon's ring girls fit into all of the discussions of feminism circulating on social media and the internet at large? While they are essentially paid for their looks and don't really have a large purpose in the sport, can they still be empowering for girls and women to look up to?

While wrestling with this topic (no pun intended), I've asked myself, "Is it possible that UFC Octagon ring girls can be both used for promotional purposes and also empowering for women?"

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I understand that this topic is super contested, and there is going to be a lot of debate on either side. This conversation is not intended to put down ring girls in any way but is instead meant to try and grapple with this topic.

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To say that a ring girl cannot be a feminist because of our own perceptions of the job as a sexualized role is not the right argument here.

Instagram | @ufcoctagongirls

It's not anyone's place to take away someone else's agency in the matter.

For example, ring girls sure know how to own their bodies confidently.

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Being a ring girl is often only one part of their career.

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Many are models that actually began their career with modeling, which makes it a whole lot easier for them to get into the organization.

Octagon ring girl Kahili Blundell co-owns a swimwear company and is also a professional nutritionist.

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They also make quite a bit of bank for themselves — sometimes more than the actual women fighters. 

Instagram | @ariannyceleste

Even though they might not be the women in the ring fighting, they still work hard at their job.

As ring girl Arianny Celeste expressed in a Reddit AMA thread, "What people don't know is we are representing the sport — we're not just pretty faces that walk around with a card. We have to be in tip-top shape and know what is going on with the sport."

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Ronda Rousey has brought attention to this pay disparity. 

Instagram | @rondarousey

She famously expressed that women fighters should really be paid more than ring girls and that they wouldn't even have a job if it were for fighters like her.

For Rousey, "Either the ring card girls are paid too much, or the fighters aren’t paid enough."

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Although ring girls do great things for themselves in their careers, Rousey's comments shed some light on how ring girls are perceived, which is clearly not always in the best light.

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Ring girls are primarily used for aesthetic purposes.

Instagram | @kahiliblundell

Couldn't just anyone hold the round signs? Do they need all of this exposure?

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While they are allowed to choose their own outfit to wear for the events, they seem to still wear the same bodycon outfits.

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There also appears to be minimal diversity among the ring girls, whether it be racial or in terms of body size.

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From the UFC ring girl profiles, none of the girls are over 120 pounds.

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The fact that they are even called ring "girls" and not "women" is pretty demeaning. 

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While women who call one another "girls" is more acceptable and even a subversive community act, being called a "girl" by a man is very different.

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Many of the girls are often catcalled by spectators and just ignore it, and while others have even received fake proposals.

Instagram | @ufcoctagongirls

While Arianny expresses that this is "awkward but it's funny," this whole situation is pretty problematic.

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All of this perpetuates both norms for both how women should look and low standards for how men view women.

Instagram | @ufcoctagongirls

While we can be empowered that these women are confidently strutting their stuff, what happens when, say, a pillow fight event is set up just for these women to participate in?

For me, this just perpetuates the male gaze and fantasy ideal.

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If the primary role of these women in the organization truly is to sell and promote the UFC organization, fights, and events using their looks, this is objectification.

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With a quick Google search, countless articles like "Hottest UFC Ring Girls" pop up.

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Where are the articles that say, "UFC Ring Women Who Are Actually Entrepreneurs" or "Who Are Badasses Outside Of The Ring, Too"?

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Even on their profiles on the UFC website, their biggest accomplishments relate to their looks.

Instagram | @ariannyceleste

For example, Arianny Celeste is touted as the "professional hot chick since 2006."

And yeah, we can't deny that she has been blessed with good looks, but a "professional hot chick"? Really?

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While ring girls do keep a tradition alive, their objectification for the male gaze needs to be considered when we think about important roles women play in being empowered in their own careers.

Instagram | @brookliyn_wren

This especially needs to be taken into account considering how male-dominated the UFC is.

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