Mar 112011

I know I owe you guys another installment of Sex and Roller Derby.  And I promise it’s still on the horizon.  But remember how I warned you I might come up with something more important to say?  Last night, when Moxie posted about the oft-contentious topic of derby dress, I realized I DID in fact have something to say.  Because what I wear to derby matters to me.  It matters A LOT.  Because I’ve been worrying about my clothes for way too long already.

I had my first conflict over clothing when I was about 10 years old.

I'm the one in pink. I am 6 here. I am already developing hips and thighs.

I’m one of those kids who developed really early – earlier than is strictly reasonable.  I was full height by age 9 or 10, already sporting breasts and hips and an ass that, for an elementary schooler, could only be referred to as “epic.”  Whenever I mention this aspect of my childhood in mixed company, my male friends say, “That must’ve been awesome!”  Girls know better, though.  When I mention being the first kid on the playground with a C-cup, girls cringe silently or offer commiserating stories of their own.  Because girls know that being sexualized early is rife with complications.

All of a sudden, my uniform shorts looked a lot different than everyone else’s.  The baggy fabric was hugging me so tightly that preventing panty-line became a daily challenge.  My new bra (like actual bra; no training for these tits) was absurdly visible through the sheer fabric of our Peter-Pan-collar innocent-schoolgirl shirts.  Boys popped my straps on the playground.  They asked me if I’d be willing to show them my tits.  Up until that point, I don’t think I’d ever even heard the word “tits,” much less some of the other super-creatively-gross euphemisms they’d come up with.  I had no idea what they were so interested in.  As far as I could tell, I wasn’t any different than I’d been the year before.  I was the same mousy, quiet girl I’d always been.  Now, all of a sudden, the other kids were paying attention to me.  But the attention didn’t feel good.  It felt strange and awkward, unfounded somehow in anything I could comprehend.

I’m not saying I didn’t know what sex was; my dad is a scientist, and as such he always made sure I had a scientific explanation of the world around me.  But understanding the mechanics of sex does nothing to help you analyze the skeezy feeling you get when the class bully unhooks your bra during math, or tries to bounce a penny off your ass whenever you bend over.  Those feelings have nothing to do with making babies, nor with the “mutual respect and affection” that you’ve been taught are supposed to accompany human sexuality.  (Yeah, I know.  ”Mutual respect and affection” is kind of high-faluting language to use on a kid.  But you’ve never met my dad.)

My mother and I began to have near-constant conflicts about my clothes.  While school days were taken up with required uniforms, my weekends had always been a long string of shorts and tank tops.  Now, suddenly, I found my mother trying to convince me to “layer.”  She took me to Dillards in search of jeans to replace my well-loved outdoor shorts.  Whenever I tried to ask her why I couldn’t just wear my old clothes, she would hem and haw, telling me only that “those clothes just don’t look right on you anymore.”  When I got a little older and babydoll dresses with spaghetti straps got popular, I had to continually insist that wearing a t-shirt underneath the dress kind of hurt the look.  The same held true for wearing biking shorts underneath a skirt.  My mother didn’t breathe again until I got into grunge and started wearing figure-masking flannel shirts and overalls.

It took me years to understand why clothes that looked so cute and fun on my friends somehow looked slutty on me.  Things started to even out a little as I got older and my peers began catching up to me.  My body didn’t stand out quite as much outside an elementary school classroom.  But the weird feeling that there was something wrong or immoral about my shape never quite left me.  My breasts and hips were intruders that made my life confusing and complicated, that asked people to read my body separately from my personality.  They had their own grammar, sent their own private message to the world.  And I hated them.

By the time I hit my senior year of high school, I was a full-blown anorexic.  I had dropped from around 130 lbs (about what I weigh now, for those who know me) to 100.  My freshman year of college the numbers climbed lower, first to the lower 90s and then, after a bout with stomach flu, the lower 80s.  I bottomed out at around 82 lbs before I finally got some help and started the slow crawl back to normal.  And although I can’t guarantee a causal relationship, I can’t help but think that my early experience with T&A helped push me over the edge.  If I could just lose a little more weight, just a few more pounds, maybe my hips would disappear.  Maybe my breasts would dissolve and never return.  Maybe I could live a life where the clothes I draped myself in didn’t matter so much.  Maybe I wouldn’t look like a slut.

Me, parodying "sexy", at the 2010 Running of the Rollerbulls in New Orleans

I had to begin dealing with my body dysmorphia in order to get healthy again.  I had to learn that food is good and starvation is bad, that my body is my friend, yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda.  But it wasn’t until I joined derby that I really became friends with my body again.  I learned that giant asses are tools of power, that tits can be used in strategic positional blocking, and that thunder thighs help me get low and gain stability.  So when I dress for practice, I wear outfits that highlight my most valuable assets.  As Moxie mentioned in her post yesterday, derbies have long been proud of their hot pants and fishnets and low-cut tops.  But they’ve also been criticized for them, taken to task for not dressing like “serious athletes.”  So when I don my hot pants, I’m sending an important message to the world.  I’m saying “fuck you” to all the people who made me feel ashamed, who tried to teach me that asses and tits and hips were nothing but sex tools.  I’m reminding myself and my audience that women’s bodies – no matter their shape – are powerful.  I am proud, not ashamed.

So if the world wants to keep staring at our hot pants and telling us we’re nothing but sex kittens, that’s their own damn fault.  I know better.  I know that my body – while sexy – can do a lot of other things besides fuck.  And until the world learns that women have a right to display their bodies however they choose, without judgment, I’m going to keep skating – hot pants and all.


  8 Responses to “What my hot pants (and my ass) mean to me”

  1. Well made point Vill! I love you and Moxie for addressing this issue. For me, I love being able to mix my love for color and femininity with altheticism. I feel like being sexy and being tough is such an amazing combination. I love that it is not required, but that it is embraced. I love that my league mates make room for women of all shapes and styles. I also love that we have such a broad spectrum of personalities, allowing for those who enjoy the costumery and those who don’t feel any need for it. I love the idea that being sexy is not for a guy or a gal, it is for ourselves. And I love that some of the sexiest women playing roller derby wear the basics, without decadence, and that their sexiness results from their power on the track. What a fun discussion!

  2. I can identify with so much of this. It has been a long hard struggle for me to accept my body. I also developed early and it was such a hurdle. Although I am new to derby, one of the things I love is acceptance of all kinds of bodies and of individuality. I understand the fine line between uniforms and costumes, but I hate to see that individuality quashed to gain “acceptane” from people who don’t understand the spirit behind it.

  3. We could also have an article, “How to Dress for Success in Roller Derby”. How the article is crafted would be based on the author’s view of what constitutes derby success. For some, derby success is about finally feeling included and welcome to express herself, pushing to any extreme she desires. For others, derby success is about being an athlete who enjoys her sport and wants that success to be more recognized in the mainstream. I’m more the latter. Therefore, my attire choices are based functionality first. That is, my derby clothing will make me feel comfortable (perhaps more confident) playing the sport. I feel that play should make a derby girl stand out – not clothing. I don’t think tutus are functional. However, shorts (including booty shorts) and stockings do have function. And, I’m happy when functionality and good style combine. I like my criss-cross hose…

  4. It seems lately I am saying this a lot, but I have to mention that while derby espouses to be welcoming of all women and dressing types, I have never in my life been more (self)conscious about my body. Gone are the days when I could just be the fat girl in the crowd – now I am the fat girl on the track, and the audience, the opposing team and my league-mates are all able to judge me based on my body and how it performs.

    I love derby, but I don’t love having my body on display. I cover up with black tights and t-shirts, but I still know that people are watching. Most importantly, I know that I am judging myself more harshly than ever before.

    Just a thought…

  5. @ Summer: You DO have very awesome functional style! And I actually think of you as having a very particular, individual style. Certain outfits look 100% Squasher to me, and I like that.

    @ Peaches: I’m glad you said what you did, because it’s an important point. My claims about how I feel when I play are based around my identity as a relatively small woman who doesn’t experience the kind of daily body-shaming that you’re describing, and that millions of women in America have to face everyday. Derby does make a lot of claims about body acceptance, and if those claims are not being met, it’s important for us to talk about that and admit when we aren’t living up to our own standards. If we don’t even treat EACH OTHER well, how can we expect anyone else to treat us well?

  6. This, as always, is genius and opened up so many other alternative views that I haven’t considered. (I, for one, was the girl WITHOUT a chest who was teased – damned if you do, damned if you don’t). I just love that we all think – and I don’t think I’m wrong here – that ALL DERBY GIRLS ARE HOT. It don’t matta’. 100 pounds, 200 pounds, 1000 pounds, boobs, lack thereof – we all look goddamn incredible on the track . . . I think it’s the kneepads.

  7. This is a great post. I grew up with the experience that Moxie described, so your account of “early bloomer” prepubescence is very interesting to me. I’m so glad that derby provides a platform for women to learn to love their bodies for a utility other than sexual attraction. I also love all how body types are useful in our sport. That’s what I think makes derby so special. You know you’ve seen a tall girl and thought, “She would be a great basketball player” or a girl with a built upper body and thought, “She would be a slugger in softball” but in derby, I see women of all body types now and think “that girl’s butt would be a KILLER on the track” or “those bony little shoulders would hurt so bad in a can-opener!”

  8. LOVE this post/thread. Body shame=bad. Body love=good. My ex couldn’t understand why I loved my blue toenail polish even though I didn’t think it looked good on me. I told him “every time I look at it, it makes me smile” and he did NOT get that. I dress for me. I dress in what makes ME feel good. Screw the male gaze. Not that I’m not pleased when my bf likes what I wear–but that’s a perq, not the end-all, be-all. Same should go for derby. Same should go for feminism. It’s not about one set of choices vs. another, it’s about options.

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