It's little surprise that two recent books about the world of female pugilism have been authored by fashion magazine writers: Mademoiselle contributor Lynn Snowden Picket and Kate Sekules, Food & Wine's travel editor and a Vogue contributor. Since the Golden Gloves created its first female divisions in 1995, it was only a matter of time before women boxers became chic.
Perhaps it's in retaliation to the John Grayisms and Carol Gilliganisms of gender philosophy (women are loving, nonmilitant, and they readily ask for directions) or perhaps it's because Karyn Kusama's Sundance sensation Girlfight actually made its olive-skinned star, Michelle Rodriguez, look good with a black eye, but carrying a pair of boxing gloves is the latest badge of urban cool. In Cond頎ast speak, that would be tae-bo: OUT, sparring: IN.
THE BOXER'S HEART: HOW I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE RING
by Kate Sekules (Villard Books $23.95)
LOOKING FOR A FIGHT: A MEMOIR
by Lynn Snowden Picket (The Dial Press, $23.95)
Not that hip street cred was what glamour scribes Snowden and Sekules were seeking—far from it. Each entered the boxing ring because she had demons to fight, and each consequently suffered the brutalities of the game; their black eyes and bruises are mistaken for signs of domestic abuse.
Sekules (The Boxer's Heart: How I Fell in Love with the Ring), whose weight had yo-yoed along with her self-esteem, began boxing because she wanted a form of exercise that was more about sport than dropping dress sizes: "I had to get out of estrogen-filled rooms full of career dieters. . . . If one more locker-room pal said, 'Wow, you've lost weight,' I would throw up. . . . I sought alternative ways to get into my body. . . . [Boxing] was purely athletic. It suited my frame. I looked more authentic doing it than beanpole women, even in my own critical eyes."
Meanwhile, Snowden (Looking for a Fight: A Memoir), enraged by her husband's infidelity and subsequent divorce, sought an outlet for her aggressions. A New York Marathon runner, she's stunned when boxing a few rounds leaves her breathless. Married friends pity the divorc饠and dissuade her from the ring, which, of course, only makes her want to fight even more.
Both trained at the legendary Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, which, Snowden informs us, was founded in 1937 and has since seen "every great boxer pass through its doors, from Jake LaMotta and Muhammad Ali to more recent champions such as Junior Jones, Lonnie Bradley, and Riddick Bowe." (It's also where filmmaker Karyn Kusama learned how to box and was inspired to write Girlfight.)
Considering the two mid-30ish authors were at Gleason's around the same time (Snowden was a member for 10 months from 1995 to '96 while Sekules has been there on and off since '92), it's a wonder that they didn't end up facing each other in the ring. Then again, it's a huge gym: According to Sekules, 112 women are currently registered there, which accounts for about 14 percent of the total membership.
While Snowden focuses on her personal experience at Gleason's, providing play-by-play accounts of increasingly challenging matches, Sekules gives more of a broad look, tracking not just her own progress but also the careers of professional pugilists Christy Martin and Kathy Collins. She also includes a historical overview filled with fascinating tidbits (for example, the first recorded public boxing match between women took place way back in 1728 in London).
Sekules' is the more researched account, but for readers who know very little about boxing, Snowden's book may prove more captivating. As a novice, Snowden writes of all the small details of her new sport, from inserting her mouthpiece (you must boil the plastic first) to her coach's methodically wrapping her hands (Muhammad Ali used to stuff sanitary napkins into his gloves) to learning how to stand and move in the ring: "My feminine habit of cocking my hips and leaning on one leg is a liability; [my trainer] points at my leg in exasperation, and I straighten my pelvis and redistribute my weight as evenly as possible."
There's also plenty of gore as Snowden describes her wounds from the game as if they'd been incurred yesterday. After being punched in the ribs by a guy twice her size, she says, "The air leaves my body in one hideous gasp. 'Wait.' I croak, doubled over. My forehead is ablaze, my body is cold and clammy; there's a threat of nausea in the back of my throat. Drooling against my mouthpiece, I manage a weak cough, which triggers a thin flare of pain in my left side."
While we may cringe at her outburst against a bystander in a chapter titled "The White Guy Problem" or chuckle at her insisting that her wimpy boyfriend defend her womanhood against some thuggish Rockies, Snowden dares to lay herself bare. Like most memoirs, Looking for a Fight is sometimes self-indulgent, but it's also got genuine heart and guts.