Locker Room Gypsy Bones by Chrisopher Chase

Published on November 14th, 2012 | by Gypsy Bones

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Gypsy Bones by Chrisopher Chase

Toughen Up, Buttercup

By Gypsy Bones, Boulder County Bombers

Why is it that we call tough little girls ‘tomboys’? Is it that a girl who likes dirt and frogs and goes around with skinned knees is stepping so far outside of society’s gender expectations that we can’t even call her a girl anymore? Sociologic studies show that we carry boys less, play in a more physical way with them, encourage their motor development more, and encourage them to ‘shake off’ injuries more than we do with girls. Girls are generally perceived not to be as tough as boys. Is it because we teach them not to trust their bodies, and to fear pain and dirt?

When my aunt was young, she and the boys who were her best friends used to have skinned knee contests. They would run and then fall on purpose, skidding along the pavement on their bare knees to see who could produce the most impressive scrapes. There was a certain pride in overcoming that fear of falling enough to do it on purpose, and to trust that they would live through it.

Feeling tentative in one’s body has consequences that reach far beyond childhood. More boys than girls participate in sports. Studies have shown a decline in girls’ self esteem after puberty, while boys’ tend to stabilize. And this carries on to adulthood: men tend to have a generally positive body image, while women tend to be much more self critical.

It is true that some girls who do participate in sports learn to trust their bodies and find their toughness at an early age. Other women may discover a new relationship with their body if and when they have children. At derby practice a while ago, the trainer was telling us during drills, “you can do anything for two minutes!” I had to laugh to myself, thinking of the times I said that very thing to women in labor (including myself) when the force of their body’s work seemed like too much to bear. And you know what? It’s true. Yes, it hurts, I’d say, but you can do it. The difference between labor and drills, of course, is that in drills, you can choose to stop. But in either one, you can choose not to say or think the energy-killing “I can’t.”

I read about a study where children were given an easy test that they all did pretty well on. They were then either praised for ‘being smart’ or for ‘working hard’. Next they were offered their choice of a second test: another easy one that they would likely do well on, or a more challenging one that they would learn from but might not do as well on. The ‘smart’ group more often picked the easy test, and the ‘hard work’ group was more likely to challenge themselves by picking the difficult one. The researchers thought this might be a result of whether the kids felt their success came from an intrinsic, unchangeable way that they were (smart) or something they could affect by what they did (hard work). I think that many of us, as women in our society, need to learn the same thing about toughness. You don’t have to be born tough, strong, or fast, but you do have to put the work in to get there, and to push your limits more than you ever though you could. Toughness can be learned. You just have to bite off more than you can chew. Then chew it.

This is the experience that the years bring to some of us: we have spent enough time as a learner and as a teacher to know that an inflated ego has no place in either, and can interfere with both. We have spent enough time working as part of a team to know that we bring ourselves up by bringing each other up, and strengthen ourselves by supporting each other. And we’ve tested our limits enough to know that pushing just past that edge each time will extend those limits further than ever imagined. Yes, it hurts, but you can do it.

I am really happy for those twentysomething women I skate with who are figuring all this out about toughness, both physical and mental, at a younger age, and I think it will serve them well in life, whatever they may face. I think that derby is a perfect venue for learning just how tough we can be.

Instead of trying to fit into society’s expectations of us, we create our own culture of toughness. It’s a culture where even the last finisher of a speed drill is encouraged by her teammates; a culture where friends hit friends hardest because to do any less would be to disrespect your friend’s strength.

Along with the great cardio workout and the camaraderie and encouragement of fellow skaters, we learn how to fall on purpose and learn that we will survive it. Getting over that hurdle of fear is a step along the path of trusting our bodies and pushing our limits.
Toughen up, Buttercup. You’ll be glad you did.

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  • camille

    i know this article is old, but im happy it exists! i’ve always been scared of falling and failing but, now that i started playing derby, i’m trying to overcome this fear, and i did pretty well lately (per example, i sprained my ankle at the beginning of a practice, but i just shook it off and continued playing for the next hour and a half)! i hope i will permanently overcome my fear and will never be that scared of simple things like this again.

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