Mar 102011

As I was getting dressed for practice the other day I was rifling through the bottomless basket where I hoard all my derby clothes and noticed I perpetually pass over my crazy rainbow-hued paisley tights for plain black ones and scour for my favorite black Under Armour shorts instead of choosing the lacey almost-underwear that’s right on top of the pile. It’s easier to skate in Under Armour – that’s not a plug, it’s just the truth. I’ve got loads of Hot Topic products, don’t get me wrong, but I’m finding myself going more often to Academy for practice wear.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? Why to we feel the need to dress in costume at bouts, painting our faces and donning insane colors?

Sure, this Lady Gaga – type getup was popular when derby had its renaissance in Texas the early 2000s. It was part of the counterculture rockabilly atmosphere. They also used a penalty wheel and had public spankings. That was fine to renew interest in a fledgling sport, but is that really what derby is all about now?

I know a lot of us out there thrive on the masquerade of derby, the alter-ego aspect of the superhero name and dynamic dress, but I know a lot of us out there don’t. It’s obvious who’s who out there on the track. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t bout without RSRD eyeblack on my face. I just dig it. I’ve given up the glitter eyeliner, though. I don’t like “sticky eye” when I’m trying to focus on jamming through a pack. I think I’m less into the costume of derby than I used to be. On game day I choose my socks according to fit and thickness instead of what’s printed on them (practice, however, is balls-out as far as sock hilarity goes). Still, I also don’t bout without my black shorty-shorts with the skeleton hands on the back.

Skeleton hands make for fast jamming

There’s nothing wrong with the garish charade of derby clothes, and I don’t think less of anyone who wants to wear electric leggings or whatever, but I just question what we’re actually putting out there when we wear them.

Every post I read online on derby forums eventually returns to reiterate the athleticism of derby, the mental anguish, determination, and (borderline cruel) time commitment. Are we ever going to be taken seriously as athletes if we compete in tutus? Even Dennis Rodman became more famous for his cross-dressing than his basketball prowess. I think that’s something to consider here.

On the flip side, would we lose our fan base? If I skated out at a bout wearing uniform shorts, black skates, plain helmet, and team jersey with my phlegmatic last name printed on the back, would the fans still cheer for me? What if we were all like that? Would anyone come watch? Does this boil down to economics? We need ticket sales to play, and with no ruffle panties and double-entendres, we might be back to bouting in the parking lot. Since we rarely draw blood and don’t pull hair, do we need the crazy get-ups to draw the crowds and make them forget they’re not watching naked girls jello-wrestling?

Question for the live derby readers: every time we pull on our hot pants, are we selling out?


  19 Responses to “Moxie Horror Picture Show”

  1. That is such a good question! I only wear my hot pants/tights on bout days/public appearances. At practices I stick with athletic shorts. Even though I think hot pants/tights are equally as comfortable as athletic shorts they just take up so much time to put on. I guess I wear my hot pants because it is what I am “supposed” to wear…so I guess I sell out..? I don’t know. Hah

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I was watching the wild west showdown, and one of the teams had matching EVERYTHING, from pads to helmets to hotpants; and they had a bigger crowd there than we could ever fit in our space. I think there’s danger, though, in abandoning the “spirit” of derby. What other sports (i want to insert “fucking” because I’ve come to a fine, climatic point) belong exclusively to women? Not even ballet.

    So I think the renegade, flaunty attitude needs to stick, especially as dudes form the MRDA and begin to form their own branch of the sport, with matching athletic shorts and, I predict, a professional, NBA-like vibe. Just sayin

  3. Ooh! Ooh! I have something to say about this one! (Picture me raising my hand from the front row of class, trying really hard to get an “A.”)

    First of all: Awesome post, Moxie. I know that a lot of us turn this over in our heads, so thanks for bringing it up so eloquently. Yay!

    Now, my argument:

    Point One: As I’ve probably mentioned on this here blog before, part of my original interest in derby had to do with its more feminist-y aspects. What I loved about it was the diversity – of body types, attitudes, athletic abilities, ages… I could go on and on. And in many ways, the wild outfits were a part of that diversity. I come from a dance background, so tutus and “athletic attire” are sort of the same thing to me. But I also cannot explain how awesome it is to be on the track with girls in Under Armor and Serious Running Clothes. I feel like the “spirit” of derby isn’t so much the wild outfits as it is the OPTION for wild outfits – it’s a sport that involves a great deal more choice and individuality than the vast majority of athletic pursuits.

    Point Two: (Try to follow me through on this one; I’m about to say some depressing shit, but I promise there’s a payoff at the end.) If the world passes a judgment that we aren’t serious athletes based strictly on the clothes we wear, then that’s a flaw with the world and its assumptions, not a flaw with our sport. This shit happens to women WAY more than it should. Just yesterday I was reading in the FUCKING NEW YORK TIMES (sorry for the shouting; I am an angry, angry lady) about an 11-year-old girl who was gang raped by a group of men in a small town in Texas. And even the freaking NYT can’t resist commenting on WHAT THE GIRL WAS WEARING at the time she was attacked. Because no matter how brutal this attack was, or how young the girl was, it’s still somehow her fault because she didn’t have a high enough neckline. So what I’m getting at here is that the assumption that “a woman’s worth = a woman’s clothes” is a widely perpetuated falsehood that’s damaging all of us, little by little, every time it’s recited. If dudez (and some select ladeez) don’t want to take us seriously because of our clothes, if they want to make presumptions about us and about who we are and what we can do, then FUCK THEM. It’s time they started learning what assholes they are. (Also: I do not mean to aim my shouting at you, Moxie, or at anyone else within the derby world who has raised the issue. I totally see why you raised it; and I agree that it’s a problem for us. All I’m saying is that in an ideal world it wouldn’t even be an issue. And I really REALLY wish we lived in that ideal world.)

    I actually have a third point, also, but I’ve just decided that I’m going to postpone Pt 2 of Sex and Roller Derby so I can write a post about Point 3! (Sex and Roller Derby will return; just not til next week…)

  4. First of all, way to go girls! Love the blog and how you all say what most of us feel…

    Second, I get all the issues and concerns and I mainly agree with Villainelle. I’m still only a freshie (fresh meat), but I try to watch a lot of games and love looking for leagues websites and looking at the pictures…

    For me, the dressing up has also to do with the fact that, because of ‘the mental anguish, determination, and (borderline cruel) time commitment’, we sometimes need to remind ourselves that no matter how serious we take derby (and we do take it too fucking serious sometimes), it is still not what pays our bills. In fact, it only gives us more bills to pay. Dressing up takes (or should take) away a bit of that pressure and remind us that having fun is also an essencial part!

    I know a lot of people might disagree with it… But I’m a greedy little freshie and I do want it all: fun, dressing up AND being a kick ass athlete. Or as much from all of that that I can possible combine. And I still refuse to accept one thing excludes the other.

  5. maybe if we all start wearing exactly the same uniform as basket ball players (ew) then we will be considered sellouts cause we made a comeback with the hot pants and seriously we aint getting paid for this so we might as well keep in fun!

    just keepin it real over here in my hotpants!! awesome post by the way!

  6. Okay, so…recovering academic that I am, I would like to interrogate this term we are bandying about, “respectable”. Or rather the object of said bandying, since the term has only been, in fact, implied. Who is it, exactly, that we want to be respected by? ESPN? Sports Illustrated? The Olympic board? What would it mean for roller derby to be “respected” in this fashion? What would that look like? Let’s imagine. Derby would, of necessity for increased competition, become a sport for younger women, as are other sports. The prime age for playing would be something between, say, 18 and 24. It would become an organized collegiate event. Girls who loved the sport when they were growing up would burn out on it by their sophomore year (see Rock Bottom). Is this the sport we want roller derby to become? A sport like the other women’s sports? Would it even be “respected” then? Because while other professional women’s sports may be more mainstream, I wouldn’t say that they are respected in the same way that men’s sports are respected. Can you even name a women’s sports team that isn’t Derby?

    I would like to contend that it should be roller derby’s goal to become a self-respected sport, instead of a respected one. We should take ourselves seriously. Because the second it becomes something that no longer challenges ideas about what women should be like, what they should look like, and what they are capable of, I don’t want to be a part of it. I’m not saying that requires a tutu. In fact, I think tutus and makeup and hairspray are ridiculous and I want nothing to do with them. But I want to defend the rights of any woman who does want those things to be a part of her athletic repertoire. At some level, respectability in the conventional sense is always about respecting conventional norms, and I just don’t want to do that. I want the individuality and the inherently DIY feminist attitude to be retained, even at the cost of so-called respectability. And sure, I want to be respected, but not in the conventional way. I want to be respected by the Kathleen Hannas and the Suzy Hotrods and the Ivanna S. Pankins of the world. Fuck ESPN.

    (And also, Moxie, I adore you, and I will worship you in Under Armour or swim fins or whatever…)

  7. @TrAC: I really, really, really want to be respected by Kathleen Hanna. Can we make this a new goal?

    More seriously, your point about respectability is a good one. It doesn’t matter how many women’s sports are out there. Sports Illustrated will still think that women = swimsuit issue.

  8. I am a player with and co-owner of Race City Roller Derby in Charlotte, NC. The players on our team, the Charlotte Speed Demons, don’t use stage names nor do we wear costumes or makeup. We went this route because we want to be recognized for our athletic achievements and not our names or style of dress. Too many people think roller derby is equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters or a Monster Truck show. By that I mean that many feel like if they come once, they’ve ‘seen derby’ and don’t need to come again. We want them to see the game for the game not the theatrics that often comes with it. The Dennis Rodman reference by another poster is a great example of what I mean.

    We launched in September, have held two games and both were sold out. Our venue is small (600 seats) but after two games, we’ve already outgrown it. Ticket sales for our next game are already well beyond what they were at this point for our other two. Our lack of costumes, makeup and stage names have not kept fans away one bit.

    The local SPORTS media have found our presentation of roller derby to be to their liking and are starting to cover our games in SPORTS, not in entertainment. That’s another reason we’ve gone down this road. The WFTDA fan demographics showed that almost half of all derby fans don’t follow any other sports. Basically, traditional sports fans aren’t flocking to see roller derby. To make the game more attractive to the person who watches hockey, football, etc., we’ve created a presentation which they are more familiar with in the effort to attract them. We are doing this to expand our potential fan base.

    Why do we want a larger fan base? Most players I’ve talked to would welcome the opportunity to be paid to play the game. A goal of ours is to pay our players since after all, the fans are coming to watch them play. To do so, we need to generate enough revenue via ticket sales. The more fans, the more they can potentially be paid. We’ve already taken the first step toward paying our players. After two games (with a small fan base) we are already at the point where our players don’t pay monthly fees/dues and never will. Compared to other teams, our players ARE getting paid. I don’t think many other teams can say that they don’t charge their players to play.

    Many that are opposed to toning down the theatrics of derby are often very contradictory. They talk how roller derby is about self expression and personal freedoms. Some have even called those without stages names, costumes or makeup sell outs. What about our right to self expression and personal freedom? Don’t we have the right to express ourselves in a manner that feels right for us? It’s awfully hypocritical to say it’s OK for some to have the right to self expression while others don’t. Freedoms and rights are meant for everyone, not just those that you relate to. We have always said that other players and teams can present derby however they want. We aren’t expecting anyone to follow us but please allow EVERYONE the same rights. Remember, we love roller derby just as much as you!

  9. Becca,
    I respect your league’s approach and their right to approach derby however you all agree on. I have a couple of responses.

    1. That kind of derby just isn’t for me. I’m 34. I’ve never played a sport before, and I’m only okay at this one. I’m on my league’s B-team. I would never make it in a highly professionalized environment. (Nor would I want to, I’m just not a clean cut role model like that) And, even if I’m not a total ass-kicker on the track, I still think I have something to add to the team, which I would not have the opportunity to do if we were pros. However, I would happily root for y’all on ESPN or buy Sports Illustrated if you made the cover. And I would never criticize your desire to wear board shorts or flip flops or g-strings or whatever. I am all about personal choice. Provided that it’s actually personal, and not mandated or dictated.

    2. I think you should be a little careful what you ask for. Professional women’s sports are among the lowest paid “employment” opportunities available. Women in the WNBA coach and take training gigs all year round in order to keep their “jobs”. The sad truth is that, even if women in sports get paid, they still have to work multiple jobs and never get to be the athletes they could be if their sport payed a decent wage. It’s just another ghettoized female occupation. I think that if you can pay your players, that’s amazing, pay them. I know that it will make a differences in their finances. But, let’s be honest, playing derby is never gonna be about the money. Nor should it be.

    3. I think it’s important for the history of modern derby to be recognized and respected. All those women safety-pinning together their uniforms ten years ago made it possible for the rest of us to play today. Whatever we choose to wear, and however we choose to wear it, hotpants are part of our history, and that should warrant respect.

  10. @ Becca: I DO think you have a right to self-expression and personal freedom! And if you guys have found a good place to play derby the way you want to play it, that’s fantastic, and I won’t ever tell you not to do it. In my comment, and in the article I posted today on this same subject, it isn’t teams like yours I’m railing against. I love my derby sisters, in all their forms. What gets my goat (yay! derby pun!) is the fact that the Sports Powers That Be (i.e. the Patriarchy, or the editors of Sports Illustrated, or the CEOs of ESPN) will ONLY acknowledge teams that fall under THEIR definition of “serious athletes.” And that’s not your fault; that’s theirs. I’m sure you guys deserve all the credit you’re getting, and it sounds like you’ve worked hard to be taken seriously in your area. I would never try to take that from you. It’s just that I’d like to see some of that same love given to my sister teams who lean a little to the wilder side. All we’re trying to argue here is that the crazy outfits and the nicknames don’t HINDER athleticism.

    Football players – who are some of the most widely heralded, well-paid pro athletes around – may not PLAY with their nicknames on their jerseys. But the most famous ones HAVE nicknames, and they get called by those names more often than by their given monikers. They also sometimes commit crimes and live wild public lifestyles. None of those things take away from ESPN’s view of those guys as “athletes.” But the first time a derby girl puts on a skirt, she’s not a “real” athlete. THAT’S the double standard I have a problem with. And you didn’t create that double standard. Assholes did. So again, I think you guys should do whatever works for you! But so should everyone else; and if what works is tutus and nicknames, that’s cool too.

  11. Great post, and a great topic for discussion.

    Almost two decades ago, there was a particular wrestler who was told that he was unmarketable due to wearing black trunks and black boots, and that he would never draw a dime… and even if you never saw him perform, I almost guarantee that you know his name: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.

    One of my friends has recently taken to wearing ‘proper’ athletic shorts for training and bouts, which I noticed immediately. When I asked her about it, she said that she’d been at a bootcamp when she realised that everyone (i.e the newer skaters) seemed to be wearing ‘amusing’ shorts and she felt that in order for her to be taken seriously she needed to dress seriously.

    I don’t doubt that serious-clothes-for-serious-athletes has its merits. I also believe that personality and ability will always shine through (a la ‘Stone Cold’). And I also *know* that you should never judge a book by its cover – I’ve been struggling with that one my entire life because of how i choose to look.

    Yeah, so I’m biased – I know the sport, its history, and a large number of its athletes and officials (in the UK at least). It’s always going to be something of a dilemma – especially when the flames are fanned by the mainstream media ( – but I don’t think there is an answer to be found.

    I look at Oly (circa 2009 Nationals), by way of example, and I see a team, but no identities, no individuals. That’s not to say they’re faceless, but as fans I think we need something to grasp, to hang on to, so that we can buy into what we’re watching. Imagine an album without any stand-out songs, and what you have is ultimately unfulfilling, no matter the quality of the songs on offer. Likewise, there are many great songs which fly in the face of conventional arrangements, but without a hook, a chorus, a memorable riff in its own right, it’s unfulfilling.

    If I might use another wrestling analogy: look at The Miz. Compare him circa 2007 with him circa 2011 – as he’s stepped up his game in certain areas, he’s toned down certain aspects of his gimmick (specifically, his attire). Compare this with ‘The Macho Man’ Randy Savage, in his prime.

    I guess my point here is this: larger-than-life is great for getting people’s attention, but knowing where to draw the line is an art, and it’s highly personal. I know where my heart lies on this one, but then I’m the guy in the cowboy hat who has a paintbrush stuck to his chin… and that will *never* change.


  12. I wrote this post because I simply don’t have a strong opinion either way about this issue – I can’t decide what we really should be doing. @ Becca: I think that’s incredible how your team has risen like that. I’ve wondered about such a league hypothetically not realizing that one out there actually has reversed the trend with amazing success. I read your post and thought, “Hell yeah! WE should do that!” and then I read another post supporting a different derby style and I think, “Hell yeah! WE do that!” so I just don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I think it may just take time for derby to foster the respect it deserves. I think there is some of that out there – I just want more.

  13. First and foremost- the question you pose and the way you’ve posed it reads like a fine wine- full bodied with amusing complexity, yet enjoyable enough to savor and share with friends- Kudos!
    Now- onto the meat and potatoes (in other words- insert my opinion immediately after this parenthetical aside): I’m pro-uniformed athlete, in that I’m into using my Mom and Dad given name, showing off my prowess and incredible feats of athleticism- all whilst proudly advertising my team’s ‘modus operandi’, through uniform and (egads!) teamwork.
    “What is this ‘M.O.’, you speak of, oh interloper of this blog post?” you may ask. I’m glad you (may have) asked! See, this particular team’s mission statement and belief system got me into derby fanaticism in the first place. You might say that I got in with derby the same way that some unfortunates got into the Jim Jones Kool-Aid Project decades ago. Hmm. That may not help with the point I’m trying to make. Let me try again- The way Hale Bopp fans bought Nikes – Nope, that doesn’t help, either. Hang on…wait…yes! I glommed onto roller derby through this team the way Eliza Doolittle glommed onto enunciating weather reports in Spain through the help of Henry Higgins! Yeah. Well, anywhoo- the life- altering mission statement I speak of?
    “To further the sport of roller derby while establishing a culture of athleticism, professionalism, creativity, unity and tolerance”.
    Wow. I love typing that. More so- I love saying it. I love believing it.
    I love knowing that I am a part of an incredible movement that is sweeping the world- a movement that lauds the strength of females, the athleticism of females, the beauty of the strength of being female.
    On the other hand, I abhor terms like ‘effeminate’ being used to describe weak, delicate, gentle persons. I despise putting up with ‘girl’ being used as a derogatory term. I’m sick of ‘woman’ being almost synonymous with ‘old’, or ‘sexless’, even ‘unattractive’. I mean, ‘Cougar’? Come on.
    I think of roller derby as a powerful vehicle that can help define true femininity to the world at large.
    I’m also new to the sport, so I may be way out of line with my viewpoints and opinions. But what I do know is that I have gone through a majority of my life trying to fit into a mold that wasn’t made for me. I’ve been talked down to because of my sex, I’ve been paid less money for doing the same job as someone who has more external equipment than me- I’ve even had the bedazzle beaten out of me for trying to do more than sit and look pretty.
    My roller derby team believes in hard work, dedication (what derby team doesn’t, right?), displaying professionalism at all times (and especially while in team uniform), but above all- self-respect, and respect for others. I love my team and I love roller derby.
    Random quote shout out!
    Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.
    Ayn Rand
    That quote having been quoted, I’ll end with this-

    Personally- I feel that if a lady, a woman, a girl, a femme- wants to wear a tutu, have a superhero name, wear face paint, wear a uniform, belong to a group, an organization, drink beer, drink protein shakes, kick ass, do turbo kick- do whatever they want to do to show the world that Hell yes- Girls Rock! Then do it, and do it with derby-style. Let’s just let the rest fall into place, with maybe a little hip check to assist.

  14. Yep- you’ll want to nav dagny before the rest of the derby world discovers her. ;)

  15. Wow, there’s a lot of comments! I don’t pretend to have the answers, but sometimes I have some really good questions! One point to consider in the debate on athletisicm vs. outfits… Dennis Rodman might have been more well-known for cross-dressing, but would anyone have cared if he wasn’t a star athlete (especially the media)?
    Still a freshie here – hell, I haven’t played sport since they made us in school – but what got me interested in derby was the concept that we can be fun, kick-arse chicks who can be themselves and don’t apologise for it. That’s a concept that seems alien to most of the world I live in. I too have gone through my life trying to fit into a mold that wasn’t made for me (and I’m seeing that it’s a common theme in derby too – or someone’s been reading my diary). Of course, that’s not the only great thing about derby – I love the athleticism, the camraderie, the teamwork, and rollerskates are cool :) But for me, derby is great because it’s not one of these things – it’s ALL OF THEM.
    If your focus is purely on the athletics side of things, if that’s what matters to you, great! Power to you! For me, it’s also about having fun and not taking it too seriously – and that’s not to say we don’t train hard in our league – I always aim to be the best I can be, and if I haven’t half-killed myself at training, I feel like I’ve let myself down – but if I wasn’t having fun doing it I wouldn’t do it. So we have fun with our outfits too… Even when we bout and wear a uniform.
    I’m not as eloquent a writer as some here, so I might leave it there, but for one more thing: The other part of what makes derby great from my point of view is that we are all different, and we all have differing opinions on many things, but we all have this great thing in common, and we don’t need to shove everyone else into our mold.
    That’s what makes derby special.

  16. It is my humble belief that any lack of respect geared towards roller derby from mainstream culture has to do with the sexualization of the players. I love hot pants. The shorter the better! I love having an “appropriate” venue to sport them and still be taken seriously (oppose to the many years I put into the adult entertainment industry). Why do they take me seriously? Because if some punk thinks it’s okay to frisk me ’cause I’m wearing short shorts I will bounce his ass across the gym and everyone will cheer for me. I digress.
    American society fears strong women. Women in charge of their bodies, their sexuality, their education. Women who know what they want. Women who are not afraid. To make them less scary, they are called sluts/whores/tramps… and whatever else. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir.
    I truly believe that even if we all wore baggy basketball shorts, sports bras and conservative tops, we would still be sexualized. There is too much “girl on girl” in derby for it to not be sexualized in some way. So unfortunately, I don’t think the hot pants/push up bras/glitter have anything to do with weather or not certain groups of people will ever give the sport the respect it deserves. Because the people who don’t respect women will only see this sport as some hot girl on girl action.
    But as long as they buy a damn ticket, I’m okay with that.

  17. @Cat Scrap Fever: preach on, sister!

  18. I love this conversation and all the super smart things being said here. Love it! I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately myself, and it came up recently in conversation with a leaguemate too.

    Villainelle, trACDC, and Cat Scrap Fever have hit a lot of nails on the head as far as my thoughts about all this, so i’ll try not to ramble on too long repeating their points. I don’t purport to have it all figured out, but i do think that (to loosely quote Audre Lorde) the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. We could follow every “respectable” unwritten rule in the book, we could standardize ourselves from top to bottom and try to figure out the perfect formula for finally Getting the Respect We Deserve, but as Cat Scrap Fever said “American society fears strong women. Women in charge of their bodies, their sexuality, their education. Women who know what they want. Women who are not afraid.” We could dress like, ie., the WNBA, but i think we’d be treated just the same as they are (see trACDC’s comments above). I’m just not convinced that fitting into a Traditional Sport mold would get us any more respect or validity overall. Preaching the athleticism of roller derby while wearing hot pants or what have you will certainly cause scoffing from many, and there’ve been many times in the past when i was doing just that and inside thinking “am i nuts? how could they take me seriously?!” But that’s just their voice (the Patriarchy, or the Sports Powers That Be) sneaking into my head. Most of the same people wouldn’t take me seriously no matter what i was wearing.

    So i’m in favor of keeping with the spirit of derby and letting it be individualized. If a person or a whole team or league wants to go one direction or another and it works for them, that’s great.

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