Derby Bodies

You bring your whole self to derby – your passion, your work ethic, your love and understanding of the game – and, of course, your body.  And you can pretty much count on no one telling you how you should probably lose a few pounds, or that you’re a little small for derby, or that your legs are too long to be an effective blocker, or that your chest is going to get in the way of playing, or that you’re just not tall/small/thin enough.  Honestly, derby is a pretty safe space when it comes to body issues in general. That doesn’t mean that derby girls don’t have their own issues, but there’s something transformative about entering that track, and I think most derby girls manage to leave negative talk at the door, and try to help support each other when issues do rear their ugly heads.

It’s not that we’re blind to the implications of physicality in derby, or that we ignore physical differences. But I think most derby folks tend to value function over form (as backwards as that sounds for a sport that values fishnets and tutus), and let each girl declare and demonstrate for herself just what her physical strengths and limitations are).  Can you put your ass on some girl and use it to move her out of the way for your jammer? That’s function. Can one of our jammers skate sideways on the inside line and slip through to avoid a hit?  Whatever the physical trait, we want to know, how can you use that to your advantage?  And that includes overall size.  We try not to make any assumptions about someone’s body and what that means for derby; we let them figure out what their strength is going to be. The result is a decidedly positive spin on bodies in derby; what CAN you do?  How can you use this physical trait or skill to your advantage?

I remember hearing a note from a visiting coach, many months back when I was just starting to scrimmage. It went something like this, “She can’t always hang out in the back; figure out where to use her. But omigod, I love her size! And she can skate!”  I think it took me months to really process that.  My size = good for derby.

Contrast that with a speed skating (ice) club I visited about 6 years ago… I had talked to the coordinator over email before the day, confirmed that it really was open to all levels, and was pretty excited to just skate in ovals  (I’d been skating with an ice dancing group, and the rules/patterns/people were starting to chafe).  I had crappy entry-level molded long blades, and I think I asked if they’d be ok.  The guy’s response?  “That’s really gonna be the least of your problems.”   Um, gulp? WTF, asshat? I think I surprised him afterwards with my skating, by doing real speed skating crossovers on those crappy skates that hadn’t been sharpened in god knows how long, jumping in on the more intermediate crossover drills.  And though my endurance was kind of crap, I know how to dig in deep when I have something to prove to asshats and/or myself, and I kept up with the group ok. But I never went back, despite having long-blade skating in my freaking BONES.

Derby is just different.  I’m not so naive to think that no one is ever going to make assumptions about my skills based on my size, or privately think I should lose some weight  (yeah, private is where that belongs — in *my* head, not yours).  But I don’t believe others’ assumptions have ever held me back on the track; my challenges in a pack are the thoughts in my own head, about my body — understanding/appreciating what my body can do on the track, and then doing it, without thinking or doubting.

    • TheDreadPirateRobyn
    • April 22nd, 2011

    Derby made me love my giant ass and “child-bearing” hips 🙂

  1. Derby has a way of killing 2 birds with 1 stone.

    1. I learned to appreciate my strength and size (big enough to knock a jammer out, and big and nimble enough to jam and make the opposing blockers run for their lives),

    2. just as I start appreciating my size more, I shrink.

    If that’s not a healthy way to lose weight I’m not sure what is.

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