I know body image in roller derby isn’t exactly an original topic, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents on how the sport has had a positive impact on one clueless freshie.
Recently, I was on the train home from practice with another freshie who I hadn’t seen for a number of weeks (she’d been out with an injury). As we approached my stop, I stood up to leave and she exclaimed, “Jess, your thighs and bum get bigger every time I see you!”
Now, to a lot of people, this wont sound like a positive thing. Women + large bottom half = bad, right? Maybe in other circles, but because of the context of roller derby I knew she meant it as a compliment (and you better believe I took it as one!). So buoyed was I by this ever-growing-thighs-and-bum comment that I was practically beaming by the time I walked through my front door, and couldn’t wait to relay it to the boyfriend (yup, I’m that sad). I’m aware that for many women, a comment like this has the power to trigger a nasty body-shame spiral of self-hate and biscuit-binging. It probably would have done that to me, not so long ago. What changed? Honestly, I think it’s largely down to roller derby.
Generally, women are told to occupy less space; to thin their bodies down, be concave not convex. Now, I don’t want to be smaller. The opposite, in fact – I want to take up space. And not only take it up, but to be strong enough to really own that space, and to stop anyone else from taking it. Watching amazingly talented blockers manage to be like fierce immovable objects on the track, I think about how I want to emulate them one day. Slowly, I’m starting to notice the impact of the last four-odd months of training. I can hold derby stance for longer and longer periods of time (although striving to get lower will be a never-ending goal). I can keep up with a pace line better. My 27-in-5 is almost in sight. And, yes, my quads are satisfyingly more prominent (on legs that never had muscle definition in my life). In short: roller derby has been fucking fantastic for my body image.
I think two things about roller derby have contributed to more positive body image for me: the sport itself, of course, but also the people who play it. As soon as you start watching bouts, you realise that a diverse range of body types can be successful at this sport. There is also something very grounding about being around a bunch of other women, sweating, pushing yourself, striving to do something physically demanding, and all the while not giving a shit about what you look like. Roller derby means getting red in the face, leaving sweat marks on the floor, and stinking out the sports hall, and that’s kind of liberating in a world that teaches girls to be un-perspiring, put-together and submissive (although awesome campaigns such as This Girl Can are starting to change that). Turns out being gross together is kind of fun, and looking a certain way… not so much a requirement.
For sure, I’m not saying that my body image demons have been permanently exorcised. As much as I’m trying to immerse myself in the world of roller derby, it’s impossible to avoid the bullshit messages about being ‘beach body ready’ that still dominate basically every form of media. Negative thoughts still creep in. Belly too round. Arms too jiggly. But the more I do roller derby, the quieter these thoughts get. As a former fat-kid and natural coach potato, I might be a little late to the ‘team sport is good for body image’ revelation, but hey… better late than never!
Has roller derby had a positive impact on your body image?
Image credit: Kelly Norwood, Flickr CC