I’ve said from the beginning that roller derby celebrates and empowers women, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I managed to put my finger on exactly why I love derby. It’s not because it empowers women, but because it makes them powerful.
In this patriarchal society, where women’s bodies are property of men, where women are encouraged, if not forced, to make themselves thinner, less hairy and generally submissive under the guise of ‘beauty’, it’s hard for women to really feel like their bodies belong to themselves. This is where, for me, roller derby comes in. Roller derby teaches women a new way of inhabiting their bodies, of seeing it not as something which has to be moulded to a form dictated by someone else, but instead as something which you learn to trust and when you do, it frequently surprises you with its strength.
Roller derby is a sport, it’s about being better than you were last week, about being out of breath and about waking up the next day with aching muscles. But it’s not about comparing yourself to others, it’s about learning at your own speed and patiently teaching your body to do things you didn’t think it could do. The whole act of skating is, if you think about it, fairly ridiculous, as a coach once told me ‘you’ve strapped wheels to your feet, why would you do that dumbass?’. And as a result it makes you think differently about how you move. Yesterday I skated 27 laps of the track in 5 mins (ok, I’ll stop bragging now…) and I didn’t do it by pounding my feet on the ground as hard as I could, I did it by staying low, focussing on my technique and thinking of the ground as an extension of my feet rather than something I was afraid of. It taught me to reevaluate about my relationship with my surroundings and with myself.
When I got to derby practice I don’t get told what to eat, or how much you should weigh, I get told to think about my posture when I’m skating, or where my feet are placed in order to do this. For five plus hours a week my entire focus is on my body, the muscles aching to hold me up and my legs attempting to master new moves. I’m not trying to make myself smaller in order to sit next to someone on public transport, or worrying about whether my eyebrows are plucked sufficiently (hint: they’re not), I’m thinking about what my body can do, not what it can’t.
Derby gives you new muscles you didn’t think you had, I can probably kick a door down now just from the hours I’ve spent squatting. But it’s not the physical power I’ve gained from derby that makes me feel powerful, it’s the shift in the way I think about my body, and the relationship I have with it. I’ve regained something which I didn’t even realise I’d lost, and now I’ve got it back I’m stronger than ever.