Losing Face – Beauty and Changing How My Stitches and Cuts Are Read

My stitch count stands at 51 stitches, most of which are in my face.  When looking in a mirror, I can see about five vertical lines along my...

[dropcap style=””]M[/dropcap]y stitch count stands at 51 stitches, most of which are in my face.  When looking in a mirror, I can see about five vertical lines along my hairline and forehead. I love them. I haven’t always, but I do now – they’re part of my story and in the context of what I love, where my heart has taken me, they’re something I have pride in. The other day I imagined what it would be like to go back to the US and work the job I had before, which was bartending. It’s a very image-conscious occupation and it made me incredibly sad to think that my scars, out of context, might become something I’m self-conscious about.  Maybe even something I come to hate.

I’d been cut several times before up by the hair line, but the first stitches that were really visible on my face were from my Yokkao fight against Lommanee Sit Taehiran, who sliced me in rounds 1 and 2 before the fight was stopped by the doctor (in this photo I’m looking in the mirror at the stitches then).  I was in Pattaya on the first trip down last year at the time.  I was training out of two gyms, WKO with Sakmongkol and Petchrungruang with Kru Nu, but Kru Nu didn’t know me well yet.  The fight had been organized by Petchrungruang but my corner came from WKO, so nobody from Kru Nu’s gym was actually in my corner.

When I came back to the gym a few days later with 28 stitches in my face Kru Nu was upset.  He would furrow his brow when he looked at me.  He had a little humor about it and would call girls over to look at the stitches; I didn’t know it at the time but it was his sister-in-law and his niece. But sometimes he was more serious and I could see he felt a little guilty, like he should have protected me somehow. That’s the edge that always remains in being a female fighter, that you’re a woman and your Thai trainer, if he is caring, will want to protect you in a way that is particular to his being male and you being female.  Kru Nu, without knowing me very well at this point as I’d only trained with him for about a month, actually told me that maybe I shouldn’t fight anymore.  Not because I’d lost; not because I wasn’t good; simply because the consequences of a scarred face are too much for a woman.

A Change in What a Cut Means

Fast forward a year later and I’ve been training at Petchrungruang for about 8 months now.  Kru Nu knows me pretty well. Every morning the work with him is in an almost empty gym, and my Thai has gotten better to the point where we talk a lot. And he has seen me go through great deal both in training and as a fighter. I’d fought 38 fights since those stitches he first saw me with.

Sylvie vs Muangphet - smiling blood-r50

coming out of the ring after fight 99 in Thailand

Almost a month ago now, in my 99th fight in Thailand against Gaewdaa Por. Muangpet I got a cut in the 5th round and received another 7 stitches. When I had my face full of sutures a year before and was heading back up to Chiang Mai, I’d been told by Kru Nu that I couldn’t fight for three weeks or more after getting them out. He said this was because it was in danger of reopening and it would make my gym in Chiang Mai look bad if they put me in a fight before I was healed, as if they did not care.  But now, here in Pattaya a year later I have a fight scheduled two weeks after I got the 7 stitches in my face and Kru Nu isn’t worried about it.  He says there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll open in the fight but it’s okay.  This is a huge difference from before.  And it requires a bit of explanation: firstly, Kru Nu is big on the concept of “taking care,” and I believe 100% that he’s looking out for me when he sends me to fights. In fact, I reckon he takes a little too much care, meaning only that it’s more than I require – he cares more than I want him to about the size of my opponents. I feel like his protectiveness limits my fight opportunities.  Secondly, Kru Nu is uninterested in money.  He certainly has to think about money as his fighters almost always fight with a side bet, whether big or small, but it’s not his money so he only has to look out that the fight is a good bet for the financiers.  My point is that Kru Nu wouldn’t throw me into another fight for financial gain, it’s not his way. The fact that he’s putting me back into the ring after such a short time, given his previous reasoning about it making the gym look bad, means this: he believes in my abilities and he believes in my strength to withstand and endure.  He’s not worried about me and that translates to a greater degree of him thinking of me as a fighter and perhaps a little less of thinking of me as a woman.  Because, yes, those categories do not intersect.

Kru Nu’s attitude of protecting my face and female value of physical attractiveness has also changed a bit.  For example, the scar on my forehead is very visible right now because it’s still very new. So it’s a red line that is always noticeable.  He started teasing me in the ring the other day, saying he would change my fight name to “Frankenstein.”  I laughed, as did the group of other Thai men who are a mix of fair-weather trainers and gamblers and associates, although they did so somewhat nervously.  I actually kind of love the name and I think the teasing is inclusive at its heart.  Certainly Kru Nu isn’t familiar with the entire story and meaning of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein: or Modern Day Prometheus,” and is only thinking of the shuffling, groaning, scar-covered and bolt-necked monster.  It happens for me that “Frankenstein” is my favorite and probably most-read book; so the moniker makes me very happy.  Kru Nu would never actually use this as my fight name, however, because it’s a joke and it’s a monster – he’ll tease me in private but publicly he will only ever sing my graces to others, and calling me Frankenstein is not, at least on paper, a compliment.

The Beauty Divide

This same joke hit a sour note just the other day.  In front of a group of men and in Thai, this teasing is quite light and accepting.  However, yesterday I was doing padwork with Kru Nu and absolutely killing it – I was really on point – and sitting on the wooden bench in the otherwise empty room was this young, beautiful and giggly Ukrainian woman who had just started training at the gym.  She’s a bit shy about her inexperience and I think that’s the source of the giggles, but her general girliness in the gym space turns the feeling a bit “flirty.”  It’s not a huge deal, it’s just a bit off.  And because there are so few women in gyms at any given time, the effect of any one woman has a kind of amplification affect on all women. That can be both good and bad.  Anyway, Kru Nu was previously complimenting me by telling this woman that she could train hard and be like me. This made her giggle nervously. I’m pretty sure I scared her.  Shortly after, during a break between rounds, Kru Nu pointed to my scar and said “Fa-lank-en-stein,” reiterating his joke.  But it wasn’t appropriate here.  In this context, teasing me in front of another woman who is on the opposite scale of how I want to be considered and treated was completely out of line. It pissed me off.  He can tease me in front of the boys, in front of the men, in front of the fighters and gamblers who are part of the association with fighting; but not in front of a woman who isn’t any of those things. It pissed me off. I came after him hard in the next rounds and actually took his back, which I’ve never succeeded in doing before.  I had to make call how much I could celebrate because surely it was embarrassing for him in front of this woman; it’s a very dominant position and one that is usually occasion for teasing. It wouldn’t have been much in front of any of the other fighters, who would have cheered and ooii’d. Again, fighter and woman do not intersect. At the end of the round he turned to the woman and acknowledging the event joked “Today, I lose”.

Another nickname that Kru Nu has recently offered in context of my stitches is one that is more accepting of me as a fighter than I might ever have imagined.  He calls me “Namphon” (Nam-pon), who is a Golden Age of Muay Thai fighter (against Samart in the link) – a great fighter.  He calls me this because Namphon also bled a lot in his fights.  His face was opened up many times. He told me to go and find his fights on YouTube. Kru Nu exaggerates and says it was “every fight,” but it certainly wasn’t that extreme.  But he’s a fucking incredible fighter and so brave and forward in his style.  He’s a man, even if you prefer a more clever or evasive style.  It’s an association that, like Frankenstein, carries a little hint of mockery because it’s not ideal to be cutting up your face all the time, but it also carries a very strong acceptance of being a fighter, which is at its base an acceptance of my abilities and heart.  Two concepts are dividing themselves. Taking care, and protection. Kru Nu can “take care” (duu-lae) of a fighter without the complication of “protecting” a woman, an un-fighter.

So now I sit in the gym, a Frankenstein, a Namphon, each mixed with a little humor and respect, a fighter with a forward style who in training Kru Nu works diligently with me on me coming relentlessly forward, never backing up, a fighter who one expects to get cut. A woman. A contradiction.

 

above, the joy I showed coming out of my 99th fight. The announcer/interviewer is looking at an alien, a woman with a huge gash on her face, smiling, “I love Muay Thai very much!”

 

If you found this article interesting you may enjoy:

Gendered Experience

Woman’s War Face: The Bloodied Female Face – New Beauty

Risking Your Beauty – Female Muay Thai, Brutality and the Beauty Aesthetic

Celebrating the Female Face – Bloody Face Photos from Female Fighters

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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