Our “I Am Her” series features the female movers and shakers of the industry to learn how femininity and power coincide beautifully and seamlessly together.
Pro-wrestling is not a typical territory for women. But for Nor 'Phoenix' Diana — the world's first hijab-wearing pro wrestler — stepping into the ring in her signature flame-emblazoned uniform is where she's most at ease.
At 14 years old, this self-professed "average girl" from Malaysia got interested in wrestling through video games. By 16, she was completely enamoured with the sport. Last year, at 19 years old, she was the first woman to win — and repeatedly defend — her Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW) Wrestlecon championship title, winning over both men and women contenders. Now, she's on Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List 2020 not just for her athletic achievement but also for championing diversity as a woman and a hijabi in the ring. But she is just getting started.
Beyond the formidable facade, however, one would never expect that Nor is a reserved person. Changing pre-conceived notions about women who are involved in more 'masculine' athletics, the self-dubbed 'Phoenix' runs us through her thoughts on women empowerment, on pursuing dreams, and on the role of makeup in her life as a pro wrestler, below.
Fill in the blank: I am an athlete, a changemaker, and _____________.
"...an average girl from a small country with big dreams."
From video games to the actual sport, run us briefly through your journey as a beginner athlete.
"I started playing wrestling video games with my brother when I was 14, and back then I did not even realise it was a real thing — I thought it was just a game. That's when I found out about WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and fell in love with pro wrestling instantly.
When I was 16, I tried out training in pro wrestling. It was difficult and harder than I ever expected. But I loved it and I knew it clicked with me. It was something that I saw myself doing [in the long run]."
Was there any opposition to your pursuit of it as a sport? What were the biggest challenges you had to face when you were just starting out?
"Starting out, nobody knew about me. The only sort of objection I got was from my late mother, who was worried for me. However, I made her a believer when she saw me perform for the first time.
The first few years in wrestling, nobody cared because I wasn't 'famous' yet. The fans of Malaysia Pro Wrestling had always been supportive of me, though. The criticisms and objections only came in once I got viral. Honestly, at first, I was affected by it, as I am only human and I'm not used to it yet. I learned to ignore the naysayers and use the negative energy from haters as fuel to my fire."
You are the world’s first hijab-wearing champion wrestler. Did you ever imagine yourself in such a position? What kind of change or statement do you think this title inspires among women, whether they are fellow hijabis or not?
"When I started pro wrestling, I never thought I'd be given such an opportunity to represent my company as a champion — especially for a championship that was previously held by just men. I believe that it helps to reassure myself and other girls out there, that no matter what your dreams are, as long as you don't give it up and work hard towards it, you will eventually make it happen. "
Your nickname in the ring is Phoenix. Can you tell us why it became your ‘identity’ as an athlete?
"I'm a hard worker. I would never miss training and every time I got hurt, I recovered and returned. Pro wrestling is extremely physical and it is taxing physically and mentally. Imagine having to train yourself getting used to being slammed, thrown around and being hit. The drop out rate is high during training. I got hurt over and over again and I felt like giving up — yet I didn't. So just like a Phoenix, I continue to rise from the ashes. "
You are the definition of looking good while doing what you do. How do you remain empowered?
"Thank you so much for the kind words! But believe me, I have confidence issues — as I said, I am only human. I don't see myself the way I hope to see myself or the way others look at me. I guess it is a double-edged sword. This helps me to not focus too much on looking good while doing what I do because being too self-conscious and too focused on looking good can take me away from being in [the right] mindset. So I just go out there and do what I do best, the way how I know best, and be comfortable in doing it. That is what I believe makes me look even more fabulous."
You often wear makeup even while competing. What role does makeup play in your life as a wrestler?
"My routine usually takes one to two hours. I'd start with the eyebrows, followed by primer, foundation, concealer, powder, blusher, highlighter and setting spray.
In my honest opinion, makeup is very important to women pro wrestlers as it helps to make the character look more appealing. Personally, putting on makeup helps to differentiate my personal self with Phoenix, because [as Nor] I put on very minimal makeup normally when going out and [I am] barefaced when training. Being a pro wrestler means you are playing larger than life characters, hence the need to look good to capture the attention of the audience. Furthermore, putting on makeup makes the wrestler look better in photos and videos."
Name your 5 Clozette essentials. It can be about beauty, fashion, lifestyle, travel or wellness.
"Wet wipes/pocket-sized tissue, hand lotion or cream, chewing gum, sweets, and a portable power bank!"
What can you say about the future of women in pro wrestling? What’s your message to girls who want to pursue a career in it because of you?
"I feel like we have a long way to go because, unfortunately, women who love wrestling still feel shy and intimidated to give it a try. So my advice to everyone and not just those into pro wrestling is that if you have a dream, go ahead and shoot for the stars. It doesn't matter what the obstacles are, does not matter the objections — doesn't let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, should or shouldn't do. Pursue your dreams because in the end it is your life and you have to be happy living it. Prioritise yourself and your dreams and do what makes you happy."
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
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