Derby and Weight Loss

Today I want to talk about something that gets brought up a lot, especially when fat women are involved in the discussion. That is the relationship between roller derby and weight loss.

Often, when larger girls are unsure of joining up or have hesitations about their abilities due to size a common response is talk about how derby will get you in better shape and help you lose weight. While it is certainly true that roller derby will get you in better shape, that is practically a guarantee if you understand ‘better shape’ to include increased strength, more flexibility and better endurance. There is, however, no guarantee that roller derby comes with weight loss.

Naturally, there are some people who lose weight playing roller derby. Both thin and fat girls alike can experience this. But, if you are a fat girl, do not expect roller derby to magically make you thin, and try to avoid making the mistake of assuming that the key to your improvement comes with weight loss. This thought plays into ‘the fantasy of being thin’, or the idea that your life will or would improve if you can/could achieve thinness. Though thinness in Canadian society certainly carries certain privileges, the reality is that thinness does not impact my ability to make new friends, to do a job I love, or have a fulfilling relationship with another person. It also does not automatically increase my skills in any part of my life, including derby.

Even though it can be difficult, especially given the pressures and misleading facts about fat that we are inundated with every day, it is important to recognize that our bodies are the same as any bodies, in the sense that they are made up of the muscles and bones and are ultimately capable of the same things.* Fatness is irrelevant to executing the skills of roller derby, and thinness isn’t required NOR should it be expected.

Beyonslay, a phenomenal fat derby player! Photo Credit BrendanMC

I have been participating in roller derby fairly consistently for 9 months. Prior to joining roller derby, I didn’t do ANY physical activities. As a graduate student my life has been basically stationary in front of a computer or a stack of books for about 8 years. It was a dramatic change in my activity level, and one which several people (admittedly myself included) assumed would have an impact on my weight. Unsurprisingly, I have not lost weight but gained some. I began roller derby at 220lbs, and now weigh about 230lbs. Since I am building so much muscle, this makes sense.

Some people will argue that even though you may not LOSE weight, your body will change and you will go down in clothing sizes. Again, for some people this is certainly the case. It hasn’t been my experience. I am the same size I was before, my clothes fit more or less the same after 9 months of intense physical activity. I haven’t started eating more, or changed my diet. Things just don’t appear to have changed on the outside.

But that doesn’t mean my body hasn’t changed! On the contrary, my body has changed significantly. I have gained significant strength and muscle. Whereas 10 months ago I had cartoonishly weak biceps (you know, the kind where Goofy flexes and the droop downwards?) I can now flex and feel nice hard muscles. I complain less about carry heavy grocery bags! My thighs and butt? Rock hard! Yes, there is fat on them, but they are strong. I am also no longer the clumsy thing I once was. I can dodge the cat when she runs under my feet. Stairs used to be the bane of my existance, and now I am HAPPY to take the stairs. But I’m still fat.

Even though our bodies are all made of the same things, our bodies are also different. And some of us can push and push and push and sweat and sweat and sweat and we are still going to be fat. But wow, has my body ever changed. Others might not see it, but I can feel it.

I also briefly want to address the fat blocker/thin jammer binary that often gets perpetuated. Big girls are told that there is always space for them as blockers, and that their weight is an advantage. This is true. It is also true that there is always space for fat jammers, and their weight is an advantage. These statements are also true for tiny players. And  mid sized players. What makes you an excellent blocker or jammer has nothing to do with what your body looks like. Some people have a natural talent for one or the other. But mostly, what is going to make you a phenomenal blocker or jammer is training for those positions. If you want to be a jammer, fat or otherwise, speed training is essential. If you want to be a blocker, hits, packwork and footwork are your friends. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what position you should be playing based on your body type! Right now I am still developing my skills, and I kind of suck at everything. But I LOVE to hit. The idea of being a terminator or enforcer kind of player is very appealing to me. It has nothing to do with my size, I just love the feeling of knocking another player on their ass. So, I will likely focus my training with this goal in mind. If I decide that jamming is what I want to do, then I will change my training tactics. They is about doing what I want and utilizing my best skills, not letting others tell me where I should be based on my body type.

*I am noting here an ableist discourse. At this point in time, I am unaware of players with physical disabilities, but I am certain they do exist. I believe that there is room for the strengths of a variety of bodies in derby, and that there is not one singular way to execute a particular skill in derby. If any one has any information about (dis)ability and athletics they would like to share in the comments, please do.

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About Alicia

TV addict. Activist. Burlesque Dancer. Political Economy MA. Queer Theorist. Feminist. Cat Lady. View all posts by Alicia

12 responses to “Derby and Weight Loss

  • Shae

    Hey, I found your blog from the skatelog forum. I’m also a fat girl going for roller derby, except I’m working on losing weight (well, more like I’m skating and not eating a ton of crap). My recruitment night is this Saturday and I’m terrified.

    It’s good to see that another out of shape lady was able to survive not just one night of practice, but several months worth! I can’t wait to see what else happens in your derby career!!

  • Alicia

    Yay fat girls in roller derby! Don’t be terrified, be excited. And don’t give up. It might be hard, but the payoff is totally worth it 🙂

  • Naomi

    I’m also a fat girl in roller derby. It’s been a challenge, especially with endurance drills. However, it’s an awesome feeling to keep up with all the other girls even though I feel like I’m going to vomit! Derby has helped me push myself harder than I ever have before. I love blocking and hitting, but am also looking forward to practicing jammer skills once we get to scrimmage. I’ve had more of an appreciation and respect for my body than before. I want to take care of it. Also, I never knew I have awesome abs. I can do planks through infinity. My abs aren’t visible but they are there! I encourage heavy girls to play derby!!! You have no idea what you are capable of until you try. And when you are capable of preforming prior “uncapable” tasks, it’s an amazing feeling. Don’t sell yourselves short!!! Keep on keepin on.

    • Alicia

      I agree 100% Naomi! Roller derby makes me appreciate my body so much. It constantly amazes me with what it can do. Although I am super jealous of your plank ability! I have wicked thighs and leg strength, and am working on my abs. Right now, my planks only last about 5 seconds (although thats a 5 second improvement from when I started)! You are so right that when we finally accomplish something (like the aforementioned plank) it is a great feeling, and can be the push that we need to keep going.

  • Chelsea

    Thank you for writing this! I do not do roller derby myself, but I have been fit and fat a long time so it’s great to see such a positively written post! People forget that all shapes and sizes can be fit, or unhealthy.

  • Jazz

    I am excited to see this post! I started Derby about a month ago and while I am very big I wasn’t completely out of shape, I was knocked on my butt with how much endurance the skating required. I have always skated even with my little ones in strollers but it is a lot different. I just failed my first skills test and was so disappointed in myself that I want to stop but WILL NOT! So I have been scouring the internet for inspiring info to keep me going. So thanks and good luck to you!

  • J

    I used to do derby with a guy with only one arm. He joked that it was an advantage as he never had to worry about getting penalties blocking on that side. I imagine there are lots more people with different bodies and/or disabilities participating in roller derby. I also fear that, like people of color and fat women, they are often left out of the popular representations of roller derby. Which is a real shame.

  • Sydeshow Ali

    I’m a ‘fat’ girl in roller derby. Firstly, stop calling people Fat! Change your language! say Phat or heavy. Weight issues are often just as much about body image as well as body mass. I am the heaviest I have ever been because my muscle mass (gained from working my ass off at derby) has added to my poundage. I am an asset to my team. I am fit, I am healthy. I want to be thinner but it’s not the end of the world that I’m not. I am one of the strongest blockers in my team. I may not be as fast or quite as agile (I’m pretty damn agile on my skates) as some of my team mates but I am no less valuable to my team or as a player than any other member of my league. Derby is for every woman no matter her size or shape.

    • Alicia

      Sydeshow Ali, I appreciate your taking the time to comment. I am also a fat girl in roller derby, but I don’t pretend to be the only one with opinions about it.
      That said, I refuse to change my use of the word fat. I am coming from a place of fat acceptance, which means that I want to take away the negative power of the word fat. Saying that I am fat should simply be a neutral descriptor, no different than I am short and a brunette. By coding our language using ‘heavy’ or ‘phat,’ we play into the idea that fatness IS a negative value, and I simply don’t believe that.
      I agree with your 100% that derby is for every woman no matter her size and shape, thats why I started blogging about being fat in roller derby. I just don’t agree that I should have to dance around the word.

  • polerin

    As a skinnier player, let me tell you, I love my heavier teammates. Y’all are badasses and I respect the shit out of you. I also love this post. A bunch.

  • Anon

    I don’t really have anything to add to the conversation, I just wanted to say that I really, really love this post.

  • Stphstr

    Reblogged this on Thirty-Seven Going On Thirteen and commented:
    “If you would just slim down a little…..”
    As if this would have stopped World Hunger….I was made to feel like I was not good enough. Oh, I know it wasn’t intentional…it was out of love….I recognize that….I was a heavyset kid, but I was also pretty active. I played hard and didnt let my weight stop me….but hearing that almost every day…and growing up with a brother who ate more than twice his weight in food and put it NOWHERE only made me feel like I was never going to be good enough…so I stopped caring. What was the point?
    Its through my “framily” that I’ve started to question a lot of what I once believed…its a scary road as I find out that everything that I once knew and believed was not entirely correct. It has shaken my trust in many, and I am working to find the confidence in myself to undo the mess. I read this article, and it gave me inspiration.

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