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Published on September 14th, 2011 | by R.I.P. McMurphy


Me & My Body: How Roller Derby Reconciled Our Relationship

Sometimes I love her, and sometimes I can’t stand to even look at her. Like many women I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my body. In fact the wild fluctuations of emotion I’ve experienced almost match up to the wild yo-yoing of my weight on the scales, and not even congruently with lightness equalling happiness- just general periods of loathing and prodding of fat, pinching of skin, and dissatisfaction with shape, texture and build.

It is perhaps cliché to blame the media for the dissatisfaction I’ve had with my body, my self. However, undoubtedly it plays a part, with photoshopped unrealistic proportions and the bony paraded around as super models. I do however now realise that, on a more functional level, I have spent most of my life unhappy with my form because my body never served me much purpose, that is, until roller derby.

I have never needed my body to be anything before. The odd periods of desire to be thinner in my teenage years was perhaps driven by external forces: a desire to appeal to potential partners, or to fit into stylish clothes. Of course, none of these things held much weight in my world as a serial-monogamist with little interest in fashion. Therefore any efforts to change my eating habits or exercise regime was short-lived and self extinguishing. My body other wise functioned perfectly fine, transported me from A-B, though through neglect and disinterest grew soft around the edges and lazy. I’d look at it, feel crap about it, but have no lasting motivation to do anything about it because I just didn’t need to.

Just over a year ago now I started playing roller derby. The relationship I have with my body has changed drastically over the last 14 months. What was a vehicle housing and transporting my brain around, and a cluster of limbs and appendages designed for attracting a mate and breeding, now has an altogether different purpose.

My focus shifted from concern about shape to a hyperawareness of my body’s actual function. The pain of being a new skater made me realise my legs and back were weedy and needed building up. I began to feel and understand my ‘core’, no longer did I want a waist to look good in dresses, but wanted strength to improve blocking performance. The exertion and breathlessness I’d feel from a jam made me comprehend the meaning of cardio fitness. Rather having a desire to lose weight for appearance I started to see it in terms of wanting to lose extra pounds of fat weighing me down from skating faster, and gaining muscle to allow me to pulverise opponents.
I used to look at other women and think, wow, if only I had a stomach like that. Now I look around me and assess each women for their capacity to play roller derby. What was envy is now ‘well, she wouldn’t be a very good blocker, she has no muscle mass!’

My eating habits have changed, not in a super-stringent health-nut way, but I now see food as fuel and I make decisions on meals based upon that. I still eat ‘junk’ food at times, as it’s in the context of a full schedule of physical activity, rather than feeling excessively guilty about it as I sit on the sofa cramming my face day in, day out with no means to burn it off. My relationship with food is therefore healthier as it no longer gets into an unbreakable cycle of eat, feel guilty so eat some more to feel better.

I look in the mirror now and rather than concern myself with measurements I see what my body can do for me. My expanding thighs are no longer monstrous, but a sign of the work I’ve put into my sport which pays off in the muscle and strength. Watching my body grow in this way is remarkable and rewarding. Areas I was unhappy with, such as my stomach, don’t fill me with unhelpful thoughts about skipping breakfast or otherwise abusing my body, but now fill me with ideas to develop my training and enhance my diet. It’s now a positive area to work on and tone through planks, not for aesthetics but for performance. I want to be fitter, stronger, faster not thinner and sexier. I want to be the best I can be for myself and my team, not for men, other women’s judging eyes in the street or society in general. The fact I have lost a not-insignificant amount of weight, and toned up hugely, is just testament to that fact.

I realise roller derby isn’t the only sport out there, and indeed any sport or active pastime can have the positive psychological impacts that roller derby has on me. However, I do think there is something particularly special and impactful about this sport, with its focus on individualism, respect and use of all body shapes and types, and DIY ethics that encourage you to do it for yourself and to work it form the ground up.

I have a lot of things to thank roller derby for, including just simply a way to pass the time, and helping me make new friends and connections across the country, but I think it’s the influence it’s had on the way I feel about me and the new found commitment to health that’s going to carry with me long after I’m forced off my skates.

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