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Published on October 3rd, 2012 | by DerbyLife


Derby Damage: The Psychology of a Bruise

By Vicious VaGenda, River Valley Roller Girls

You see them posted all over the internet. Women, glowing with pride as they hike up their skirts and expose their butt cheeks to share a bruise that would have the average person running to the doctor. Teammates and strangers alike will post comments, some clearly supportive, others questioning and offering comfort. Regardless of what folks say, in the world of women’s roller derby, rink rash is sexy baby!

From the outside, this appears to be some sort of masochistic addiction to self mutilation. Somewhere, there is a psychologist drooling at the prospect of a whole new group of women who could be “helped”. I hope this psychologist has a back-up plan for paying the bills, because I’m here to tell you that not only are these women “healthy” in their bruise pride, they are also changing cultural views of what a strong woman can do.

In a world that would still often prefer that women stay home, applying expensive, sweet-smelling lotions and remaining soft and unmarked, derby damage is a signature of perseverance, inner strength, and defiance. Derby girls raise their families, hold down jobs, navigate cultural expectations, and somehow manage to not only survive, but thrive on the ups and downs of being a woman. Why? Because roller derby teaches us that everyone falls – it’s those who get back up quickly, regardless of discomfort, that come out ahead in the end.

This plays out on the track as regular women morph into roller girls, and extends into everyday life as women get stronger and stronger in their bodies, minds, and spirits. Like a cub scouts badges, bruises are proof of a roller girl’s journey. And if you can muster up a scar? Well, let’s just say you might have a few envious roller girls out there who want to see it.

We’ve all watched the swinging door that is fresh meat class. Women come in enthusiastic, and confident that they have what it takes to become a roller girl. The ones who walk in the door already knowing their unearned derby names are the ones who usually don’t make it. One good fall, and suddenly life is really too busy for them to be involved. And that’s ok. Derby isn’t for everyone. But it’s a safe bet that if a fresh meat girl bruised the crap out of her hiney and is still skating six months later, she’s got what it takes to make it. She’s committed to the challenge of overcoming her body’s pain tolerance for something greater than her daily routine.

Derby Damage screams “this woman can take it!”, but it also screams “another woman really dished it!” Both speak to the culture of strength brewing in women’s roller derby. Roller girls get knocked down, smile, and then come up off the floor with determination, knowing that this fall was one of many that will come on the way to victory. Falling is part of the game. Falling hard enough to bruise your body indicates that you are fighting hard. That you don’t give up your position like a cowardly mouse. When someone tries to move past you on the track or in life, you know when to fight and when to let them pass.

Does it make us feel tough to show off our injuries? Hell yes it does, because we are tough! We can take a hit and keep right on rolling. Little punches don’t get a derby girl down. They make her growl, and help her focus. She gets up knowing that the fall wasn’t a mark on her personality or ability. She doesn’t beat herself up for the falls, but instead uses them to launch herself to her next step. The bruise that is boiling beneath the surface reminds her that it didn’t feel good to fall, but now that she’s up she can choose to keep on skating, keep on moving forward, and keep on improving.

Personally, before derby, I would have called myself “happy and successful”. I had your standard mom body, having birthed two kids and been gifted my mother’s genetics from the Divine powers of the universe. I had a career that was going well, happy kids, a great marriage. My life wasn’t “missing” anything by the cultural standard. I gave big professional presentations, volunteered at the kids’ school, helped out with community events, schmoozed with local government, and went dancing with friends as often as childcare allowed. I drove my kids wherever their activities took them, and fretted over the cost of band instruments, uniforms, school supplies & dance recitals. I would not have thought that I had time or money for anything else. I did not enter the world of roller derby “emotionally damaged” or lacking in any way. I wanted something……I don’t know…..powerful maybe….in my life. Not powerful in the way that you dominate others, but powerful in the way that you feel empowered and you want to empower others.

So I took the chance one day, and drove to practice. My fresh meat class had something like 14 girls show up the first night! Now that I’m actively involved in recruiting, I know how awesome that is, but back then I just thought there was an awful lot of competition for a relatively small team. And boy howdy, it was hard! I hadn’t skated in over 20 years, and even as a kid I wasn’t particularly good at it. I came home some nights elated because I’d learned some new skill, and other nights in tears because I missed that 5 minutes by mere seconds. I gladly sat on a donut while I drove, because I had a pretty impressive knack for falling on my backside when I was standing still, and because it was a constant reminder that I was working towards becoming a roller girl.

The 14 girls I started with began to dwindle down, and each time a girl left I felt stronger. Not because I was glad she was gone, or because I was relieved that the competition was shrinking, but because I was still there. My tailbone hurt, my feet cramped, my thighs were bruised, and my elbow may never quite be the same after my elbow pad slipped when I needed it most, but Great Derby Goddess I was still there! And I was still giving it my all, and the bruises were proof, there to remind me as I put on my business casual and went to work, that there was no hit that I had taken that would keep me down if I chose to stand up. My work life began to improve. I was more focused, more passionate, and more willing to put myself out there and offer ideas that might be risky.

I remember sitting in a meeting with my boss, proposing that we make a major change to a program. He was receptive, but skeptical. As I explained to him the benefits of my proposal, I caught myself rubbing a dark purple bruise on my forearm. I hadn’t even noticed the bruise before, but as I took this professional risk, I subconsciously rubbed a spot on my body that reminded me that things that are worth having are worth taking risks for. Falls occur, but if we really want something bad, we just keep right on pushing and we take our bruises with us. I felt stronger, more confident, and I sold him on the idea. Thanks to that bruise, and the practice falls that gave it to me, I was able to make a positive change in my professional life. Roller derby isn’t something that you leave on the track. It grows on you, consumes you some days, and lingers on others. It makes you stronger and braver, both mentally and physically.
So the next time you see a woman boasting her derby bruises online, or in your office, don’t dwell on the possible discomfort it might be causing her. For goodness sake, don’t suggest that there’s something wrong with her for putting her body through that! These are the badges of her journey, and she’s proud of them. Instead, ask her about her training, and what awesome moment led to the bruise. It might be self-inflicted, and it might be a stamp of defiance against a mammoth of a woman on an opposing team. Either way it’s hers, and she will likely be thrilled to tell you all about it!

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