I am a boxing fan, and I do enjoy some of the promotional theatrics before professional sporting events between boxers. But what really sells the fight for me is the opportunity to watch two highly trained and highly skilled athletes box in the ring. Ring girls have always been there, and usually you just see an attractive and sometimes mostly-naked woman walking around in between rounds to let the crowd know which round is about to begin. It’s obviously all about sex appeal and something to press the deep evolutionary buttons within male audience members to give them a temporary buzz and make them feel like the event was worth the price of admission.
And that is the only point of ring girls. Carrying cards to indicate forthcoming-rounds is the epitome of a sinecure job. Obviously, ring girls are not the only example of using sex and naked women to enhance and promote events and products, and maybe there is an argument that being a ring girl helps to promote modeling careers of the women involved. While I am ashamedly on the fence with a number of these issues, what worries me is the presence of representations of sex and aggression in the same place.
Something that should strike us all as obvious, at least in the male, is that the brain can be warmed to sex and to aggression at the same time, meaning that they are not as conflicting emotions as one might think. This does not necessarily mean one is emphatically horny and dangerously aggressive at the same time, but the general buzz of both emotions can effortlessly sit in the slightly excited body of the spectator. Perhaps both of these feelings together represent a state of mind and brain that makes one feel like an alpha male – a firing of all the cylinders in the ‘machismo’ circuit, which helps boost the ego and makes one feel alive.
Areas of the brain have been explored in men that become increasingly active during exposure to aversive/aggressive circumstances, and during exposure to sexual/erotic imagery. These tests are obviously controlled, so any activation is limited by precisely what the participant was exposed to, and the increased activation of certain brain regions must not be interpreted as these are the sole areas specifically involved in these activities. A point to note, however, is that a number of the same or similar areas are involved in both perceiving and feeling aggression, as perceiving and feeling arousal. Hopefully, one day we’ll see a study that monitors changes in activity from aggressive stimuli to arousing stimuli; my guess is that there might be one or two key differences, but the rest would remain subtle and barely noticeable. While this study would not tell you about the individual’s conscious experience through this shift, it might tell you just how lazy the brain can be when the context changes. This laziness could perhaps indicate how easy it is to shift from the aggressive state to the erotic state, and vice-versa.
But back to ring girls. While I am not going to argue for the complete removal of the girls from the sport of boxing, or indeed from other professional fighting events, I wholeheartedly argue that they be more clothed. One reason for this is that if ring girls are mostly naked, it creates the expectation that they be mostly naked all the time – the expected buzz attached to the price of admission. A model in an evening gown can still arouse the brain, but to the point of a subtle appreciation of her beauty, after all, spectators should be there to watch the boxing match. There are other places to go or websites to visit if anything else is desired.
There is a ‘ring girl’ culture growing in the United States, mainly in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and other Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events. Ring girls have televised try-outs and have to pose in outfits that would make normal underwear blush. In fact, it almost appears that MMA ring girls are vying to compete with Playboy (indeed some MMA ring girls have been in Playboy). This is no doubt a marketing ploy of MMA promoters in order for them to create a strong brand and maximize their franchising, on top of promoting their fights. The continual rise of MMA is going to be interesting to watch, because fighters are permitted to be fairly brutal to each other, showing maximal levels of aggression, and the associated ring girls are flaunting maximal levels of sex appeal.
In terms of appealing to the young male mind, the trap has been set.
Ferretti, A., Caulo, M., Del Gratta, C., Di Matteo, R., Merla, A., Montorsi, F., … & Romani, G. L. (2005). Dynamics of male sexual arousal: distinct components of brain activation revealed by fMRI. Neuroimage, 26(4), 1086-1096.
Lotze, M., Veit, R., Anders, S., & Birbaumer, N. (2007). Evidence for a different role of the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex for social reactive aggression: An interactive fMRI study. Neuroimage, 34(1), 470-478.