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.
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.