America is no stranger to high-profile tabloid relationships between athletes and celebrities, with actresses, models, and reality stars dating the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Lamar Odom, and Tom Brady. But there's one thing America doesn't have: WAGs.
I will freely admit to you that until I started reading up for this article, my knowledge of all things WAG consisted of the fact that Victoria Beckham is considered one and that there used to be a British show called Footballers' Wives which featured a character whose actual name was Chardonnay. And that's...well, that's pretty much it. My lack of WAG knowledge can be chalked up to a national pop-cultural detachment: the lives of WAGs (the wives and girlfriends of England's soccer stars), the source of so much tabloid fodder in the UK, have never really had a huge impact on this side of the sea, due mostly to the fact that Americans, aside from this recent bout of World Cup Mania, continue to shrug in the face of the rest of the world's collective futbol madness.
It's a bit amusing, then, that the drama of WAGs seems so custom made for the American trash-tv audience. They are, in many ways, The Real Housewives Of Soccer, and they have become so notorious in England over the past ten or so years that they've actually been banned from this year's World Cup, due to the fact that they've become such a distraction. So who are they? Let's take a look.
WAG Origins: Britain's obsession with WAGs as a pop-culture force began with the marriage of Victoria and David Beckham in 1999. Being that both of them were—and are—quite high-profile, with Beckham, at the time, considered one of the best (and best-looking) players in the game, and his wife having achieved international stardom as a member of the Spice Girls, their relationship sparked a tabloid frenzy and created a new form of weirdly aspirational couple: the glamorous star and her equally glamorous athlete husband. The WAG became to England what Paris Hilton became to the United States: a national obsession, a symbol of the tackiness of wealth, and a tabloid obsession that spawned countless discussions regarding the impact of WAG culture on women in general, which we'll get to in a bit.
WAG Style: The stereotypical WAG style is tacky to the max: a hybrid of Paris Hilton and Snooki, combining fake tans with status bags to present an image of mass-produced sexualized glamour that can be as exhausting as it is ridiculous. As Kira Cochrane of the Guardian recently noted, "The Wag style, with its manicured nails, high heels, huge false eyelashes and tiny dresses, is as feminised as it can possibly be – underlining these women's status as possessions, part of the package for footballers." However, as Cecile Rowhedder of the Wall Street Journal writes, WAGs have recently been dressing a bit more conservatively, following accusations that their uber-glamorous lifestyles had become too much of a distraction for their husbands during the last World Cup, and perhaps following the example of Beckham, who has recently toned down her image in an effort to be taken more seriously by the legitimate fashion world, and the Daily Mail notes that "today's WAGs are less Chardonnay and more Chanel," which perhaps speaks more to the fact that what passed for glam in 2006 is now seen as tacky and dated.
WAG Scandals:Cheryl Cole, famous in her own right as a pop star and former member of UK pop group Girls Aloud, recently made headlines when her husband of four years, Ashley, was revealed to have had a Tiger Woods-esque string of affairs with several women. Beckham endured her own scandal when her husband was accused of having an affair with his personal assistant, Rebecca Loos, in 2004. Coleen Rooney, wife of Wayne Rooney, had to deal with her husband's admission that he'd solicited prostitutes while the two were dating. And those are just the beginning: the Daily Mail, home to all this WAG (shocking, eh), has actually complied a list of scandals surrounding these women, covering everything from alleged assault to drug abuse to cheating to "knicker flashing." It sort of makes the exploits of Kelly Bensimon and Jill Zarin look somewhat tame. And it seems like even the quiet WAGs can't win: Ellie Darby, whose husband, Matthew Upton, plays for West Ham, was labeled as "Boringly scandal free - so far."
WAGs And Their Impact On Young Women: Cochrane perhaps says it best when she notes that the term WAG itself, "the acronym used to describe the wives and girlfriends of footballers, is a sexist slap in the face; an appellation that underlines their status as adjuncts to their husbands: accessories, appendages." Though Beckham and Cole, two of the most famous footballers' wives, are widely seen to be the most aspirational due to the fact that they achieved success on their own before and outside of marriage, and continue to do so, the obsession with WAGs and their impact on culture is a fairly depressing one: to instill in girls that your one goal in life should be to grow up and marry a hot (and, if all the accounts of scandals are correct, douchey) soccer player isn't exactly a great message to send. WAGs themselves, playing the part of trophy wives, are also trapped in a bubble of perfection: they are expected to be flawless at all times. The fact that they were recently banned from staying with their partners during the World Cup by England's manager, Fabio Capello, so that they wouldn't be a "distraction," speaks volumes as to the role these women are expected to play: they are considered to be too sexy, too silly, and too self-indulgent to let their husbands, professional athletes, concentrate on their jobs. In other words: they are meant to be seen, not heard. As with most tabloid obsessions, the emphasis on what they're wearing and who they're dating often takes precedence over who they actually are as human beings.
The Future Of WAG Culture: Criticisms such as Cochrane's, combined with a movement away from the tacky glamour of the 00s and the constant, exhausting scandals surrounding footballers and their wives, have led to a slight decrease in WAG-mania, with the label becoming more of an embarrassment than a badge of honor. Before her husband was sidelined by an injury, Victoria Beckham had planned to spend her time at the World Cup working with underprivileged children, as opposed to staying at an opulent hotel with the rest of the wives. A source claimed at the time, "she does not consider herself a WAG in the traditional sense - that is not her at all. She has her own successful career." As she's always been the trendsetter in the past, one hopes that perhaps her example—focusing on her own career and using her wealth to help others—will become as trendy as getting a spray tan and sitting in the stands, following the weird and depressing rules of WAGdom, keeping your eyes on your husband and your perfectly made-up mouth shut.
Cheryl Cole Files For Divorce From Ashley Cole [BBC]
Queen of the WAGs Victoria Beckham Set To Snub The Rest Of The England Squad's Spouses At This Year's World Cup [DailyMail]
The England WAGs World Cup Guide To Sun City [BBC]
Shedding The WAG Tag [Daily Mail]
Why Do Women Want To Be Wags? [The Guardian]
Here Come The World Cup WAGs [DailyMail]
The WAGs Tone It Down A Bit [Wall Street Journal]