Amanda Huber grew up a die-hard wrestling fan. During the height of the famed “Attitude Era,” she was eager to discuss wrestling with her classmates. Except, for her, that simply was not a reality.
“I’ve loved wrestling my entire life,” says Huber, who is a driving force in the AEW Together community outreach program. “Finding other women who were fans was always a struggle.”
As a student at Nazareth Academy in Rochester, N.Y., Huber was one of two wrestling fans in the entire school.
“I was the wrestling fan, and everybody knew it, but I wanted other women to enjoy this super cool thing that I loved,” says Huber. “I was always searching for that community.”
Three years ago, former chief brand officer Brandi Rhodes created AEW Heels, a community open to anyone who identifies as female. While Rhodes is no longer with AEW, the heart of Heels is still beating. Now led by Huber and Aubrey Edwards—who is best known for her in-ring work as a referee but fills a multitude of responsibilities for the company—Heels is building that community for women in wrestling.
“We’ve created this supportive group of women’s wrestling fans,” says Edwards. “It’s a community that didn’t exist beforehand. People are supported, and they are part of something. I love it so much.”
Heels is built off a shared passion for wrestling. As membership grows, the community strengthens.
“I have found such incredible strength in being friends with women,” says Huber. “Coming into Heels, that’s what I want to bring. You can have a support group of women. This is what I wish I had, and it is what we are building here. We want to encourage that sense of community. I want women to be good to themselves and create a community that feels that way.”
Edwards, who is also prominently involved in AEW’s gaming department and serves as host of the company’s official podcast, brings a unique perspective to her leadership. Having also worked full time in video games, she is quite familiar with an industry dominated by prominent male voices. She relishes her work with Heels, which provides a different opportunity to be heard.
“I’ve been part of so many male-dominated industries, so there’s always been that feeling of not belonging 100% to a community,” says Edwards. “Luckily, I was introduced to wrestling in a very positive way. There were very few female referees in 2017, but wrestling has been really good to me. And I want to leave it in an even better place than I found it.
“I love seeing more female faces in the crowd. That means more people are involved. There is still this type of gatekeeping, like getting asked which match was the main event of this event and which city it was held in. Seriously? Just let people enjoy the things they enjoy, and that’s what we are building with Heels. Membership has almost tripled, and it’s almost all by word of mouth.”
The change in leadership is resulting in other changes, too, though the name of the group and overall mission remain uninterrupted. But change is necessary, especially with a new leadership team.
Heels now has a new look for its online platform. There is also a heightened focus on events like in-person meetups the night before a pay-per-view, meet-and-greet tables at live events, video sessions centered on yoga, talent Q&As, and even forums covering topics like self-defense and mental health.
“There is a different way it’s presented, and our goal is to make it even more inclusive,” says Edwards. “That begins with the logo, which was a pair of high heels and didn’t represent everyone. We’ve tweaked a lot, staying true to our existing members and encouraging new people to join.
“The heart of the organization hasn’t changed. We want to build a female fan base that knows they’re appreciated and can be themselves. We want to make wrestling more acceptable.”
Huber and Edwards are also working closely with Leva Bates, and it is a major positive that the group is continuing. Inclusive, welcoming groups where voices are heard represent a positive not only for AEW, but the entire industry.
An integral part of both Huber’s and Edwards’s careers has been a focus on representation for women. That is a major component with Heels, where a distinct strength is that its core mission is giving a voice to its members.
“We’re a community for women who are fans of wrestling,” says Huber. “We’re able to connect with more wrestling fans and provide that sense of community. We can’t wait to keep building.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.