WWE’s Natalya: Total Knockout

JULY 2015 Cover_6.11.15 (2) (1)When you say the word “diva,” you immediately think of a powerhouse pop vocalist or someone known for her less than mild temper — the title gets a bad rap. That’s okay with Natalie Neidhart; she’s used to breaking stereotypes. Neidhart is best known as World Wrestling Entertainment Diva Natalya. In this instance, a Diva refers to one of the WWE’s female wrestlers, known more for their powerhouse performances in the ring rather than on the stage.

In addition to her starring role in the ring, Neidhart is also a star of the E! reality series Total Divas, which gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the real lives and professional relationships of WWE’s Divas. Now in its fourth season, the show has struck a chord with both wrestling fans and curious bystanders, drawn in by the Diva’s charm and her surprising ability to be relatable.

Admit it: You don’t immediately think you’ll have much in common with a female professional wrestler. But viewers have found that Neidhart is, if anything, relatable. With the rest of the Divas cast, Neidhart has given the general public a much needed, eye-opening experience on just what WWE is today.

Natalya describes Total Divas’ fourth season as their most explosive season yet. Her personality is a huge part of the chemistry that lends to series’ sparking points.

“Nobody wants to see somebody whose life is perfect. Nobody wants to be around somebody who’s a goody-two-shoes or never has had a problem in their life,” she explains, when asked why she thought audience’s identify wit her so easily.

“I think for me, my secret has been being able to connect with people in general, not just on TV,” she says. “My general rule of thumb with human connection is being myself and being relatable.”

Neidhart is third-generation WWE wrestler— a member of the Hart dynasty. Despite her family history with the organization, that didn’t make her a shoe-in for being a WWE Diva. She had to work for it.

“I was trying to get into WWE for five years, sending tapes and pictures, showing up at arenas and trying to be an extra,” Neidhart recalls. “I have been an underdog at WWE for most of my career.”

Part of what makes her resonate with audiences is the fact that she inspires people with her hard work, while still struggling with things anyone can relate to, like body image.

“I didn’t have a quintessential model look,” she explains. “My body is definitely more muscular. Sometimes it felt like I was the ugly duckling, and that’s when I started realizing that the best, most successful and the most confident Nattie is just Nattie being Nattie.”

When Neidhart learned to embrace and accept herself, that’s when she started to shine both on screen with Total Divas and in the ring as a WWE Diva.

“When you’re happy from within, it just radiates and people can really connect with you,” she continues. “I’m certainly not perfect, but I really like being able to showcase that.”

It’s easy to gloss over Neidhart’s crossover qualities at first glance. Consider this: She’s a female working in a male dominated industry that not only can hold her own in the ring with WWE fans, but also be feminine and relatable enough to the unconverted masses on Total Divas.

JULY 2015 Cover_6.11.15 (3) (2)“I thought of Total Divas as a huge opportunity to reach a different audience and we have,” she says of her the show’s crossover success. “We have reached more women and it’s really cool when they come up and say, ‘I’ve never watched WWE, but I love you girls on Total Divas. Now I’m taking my son [to see a WWE match]. My kids are into it.’”

“That’s the best feeling— getting all these different people who never watched WWE before,” she continues.

Part of what connects Neidhart to fans, both of the show and WWE, is the shared experiences of being bullied when she was young. She’s a huge supporter of WWE’s Be a STAR (Show Tolerance And Respect) program. Be a STAR visits schools to address bullying by raising awareness and with education. The program has over 50 alliance members, including GLAAD.

“WWE Superstars go to raise our hands and show these kids we were bullied too,” Neidhart explains. “It’s important for people to know that on TV we may seem larger than life, but in real life we went through the same hardships.”

“There are ways now that we can talk and get everybody on the same page so we can stop it with the youth, because it starts when you were young,” she continues.

That common background of being bullied at a young age just adds another layer to Neidhart’s relationship with her fan base. These shared emotional experiences help Neidhart be cheerleaders for her fans, as much as they have become cheerleaders for her.

Outside the ring, her fans have started a social media movement called #NattieTaughtMe. Fans share what Neidhart has taught them both inside the ring and on Total Divas.

“It’s just caught fire with people,” she explains. “They would send in pictures wearing my shirt and have five things that Nattie taught them. So I posted it on my Instagram and now thousands of people are reaching out to me with what I taught them.”

Common themes are: Nattie taught me how to be unbreakable, how to be myself, how to stand up to bullies, how to be courageous and how to have fun.

“It just makes me feel good,” she shares. “Sometimes when I need to find strength, I’ll read those messages from my fans and they have no idea how much it affects me.”

But how does a WWE Diva so perfectly walk that line of being strong yet still feminine, while still being a perfectly relatable role model?

“Oh, it’s just because I’m spoiled,” she begins with a laugh.

“Basically, I want to do everything,” Neidhart continues. “I want to do batons. I want to do Olympic power lifting. I want to do hot yoga. I want to get facials. I want to get pedicures. I want to do Jiu Jitsu. I want to wrestle with the boys. I just want to do it all.”

“So it’s nice to have a balance in knowing I am a woman and being beautiful, but I’m also strong,” she concludes. “I need that strength and resilience in the ring for what I do and for my regular, everyday life.”

That strength and resilience, along with her message of being yourself, is what makes her so identifiable to members of the LGBT community, who so often struggle with self identity, self esteem and finding the courage to be yourself not only within, but also to those around you.

“To me, whether you are straight, gay, lesbian, whatever, I see everybody the same,” she points out.

And for Neidhart, she isn’t just applying a philosophy for her fans across the board. It applies to co-workers too. Back in August of 2013, WWE Superstar Darren Young made history as the first professional wrestler to come out.

“One of my best friends at WWE is Darren Young,” Neidhart shares. “Darren stood up loud and proud and said, ‘This is who I am.’ And like a lot of our fans, that’s who he is and he is proud of who he is. He’s not going to hide who he is anymore.”

Perhaps Neidhart could relate, given the common ground of fearing being seen as less-than in a macho-male driven industry, only to discover how open and tolerant the organization actually could be.

“He is one of my greatest friends at WWE and one of our greatest inspirations in this company because he did something that was really courageous,” she says. “He stood up for what he believes in and he stood up for who he is inside and we all rallied behind him because it takes a lot of courage to do that.”

Neidhart also cites Caitlyn Jenner, who also appears on the E! Network alongside Total Divas, as an example of shifting attitudes in a professional athlete being their most authentic self.

“It just shows how much the world is changing,” she says in closing. “WWE has always been about coloring outside the lines and being bold, bright and beautiful, but also just being you. Be who you are and be proud of who you are. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that it’s not okay, and what we are all about at WWE is really diversity and standing up for who you are.” V

Written by Jimmy Lesch

E!’s Total Divas returns for season 4 on Tuesday, July 7th at 9pm ET/PT.

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James Lesch

James Lesch, aka 'Jimmy No Show', is the Publisher of Vital VOICE Magazine. He oversees business affairs, events, editorial content, cover features and creative direction. Known best for his quirky obsessions, including but not limited to Spice Girls, Power Rangers, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Bull Dogs & traveling.

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