Our changing bodies: How roller derby made me smaller, bigger, bigger and why that was hard

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Roller derby has changed and changed and re-changed my body.

I got skinny, I got bigger in some areas (welcome back, awkward teenage years), I got skinny and worried about myself, I got some nice abs for a minute, my thighs bloated when nothing else did, my calves eventually joined in for the ride, my arms shrunk, my face fat went away sometime, my butt joined my thighs and calves … In roughly that order in the two years and nine months I’ve been playing the sport.

I put a slideshow above with updates for just about every six months.

Sometimes the physical changes have been awesome. Sometimes it’s been hard to deal with. I’ve been socialized as an American female. When your thighs bloat out, it can be hard to be enthusiastic. Even when I felt otherwise “skinny.”

I feel (the very feminine need) to buffer here. Arguably, I’m a skinny bitch whining about gaining muscle. However, I feel my perspective is one that’s felt more widely in the derby community: As a woman, it’s not always easy to accept getting physically larger, even when you’re getting fitter.

I’ve come a long way on this — I had to — and I thought I’d share my story:

I never thought I was fat. I also wasn’t skinny. Being not-fat didn’t make it easy, coming to terms with my changing body (Whoa, hello puberty book). At first, I lost weight, mostly from my stomach and face. After a few months and a couple bouts under my shrinking belt, I kept losing weight.

I knew it was food related. I was eating the same (a bagel for breakfast, maybe some spaghetti for dinner and some days nothing in between), but my activity was dramatically increasing. I wasn’t eating much (if any) meat. My body was starved for protein and calories and it was shrinking. It scared me. But my teenage, anorexically-inclined insecurities kept rising up when I tried to eat more than usual. I had to face that. I had to talk kindly to myself. I had to try to think of food as fuel. It’s difficult. But I wanted to get better at this sport and I knew I couldn’t do that and not eat enough. So, I had a long think, reconciled with myself and made the changes I needed to.

That got harder when my thighs suddenly (add animated plomp plomp plomp noise) — it seemed sudden anyway — bulked up. My pants still fit because I’d been wearing loose pants. My teammates were starting to say that their calves couldn’t fit into their skinny jeans and I was jealous. Calves are cute, I thought, thighs are thunderous*. But in derby — and in life — you don’t get to pick and choose your body parts.

My stomach was staying the same and I was beginning to feel muscle developing under a thin layer of fat. That was encouraging. My calves started developing too.

So then I moved from my small league to Portland, Ore.

This forced a massive attitude change. I attribute this to a few things:
1. Roller derby here sucks up so much of my life that skaters make up about 90% of the people I see in a day. Surrounding myself with beautiful, strong women makes me want to be a strong woman, not a skinny woman***. I don’t compare myself to the thin women in movies, magazines and at the mall — mostly because I don’t have time to read magazines, watch movies and go to the mall. I normalized muscle as beauty by consuming images of that instead.
2. My goals need me to fully dedicate myself to my workouts and that means I can’t have these anxiety hangups about food. I do not have the time and I no longer want to expend the energy on thinking about how much two eggs, a bagel, a fruit, my coffee with too much cream, etc “costs” in calories.
3. I skate so much it doesn’t matter what I eat. With up to 15 hours of derby a week when it’s home and travel team seasons, ain’t nobody got time for that [food worry].

So, changes since the move: I went from the fresh meat pool to home team to travel team in six months. So when I say I ramped up my training, I mean three times (little league>FM>home team>travel team). I ate more meat, more beans, more bread, more fro yo (there is so much of it here.), more vegetables, eggs … I just eat more.

That much ramp-up in activity changed my body all over. My abs, which I felt were cute now bloat my stomach. I feel like that’s a thing the Cosmo magazines, etc don’t tell you: Abs are not flat. Abs don’t make your stomach go in. Real abs, if you have more than 7% body fat, bulk out your tummy and make you look a bit bigger. I had to accept that.

My thighs developed more. Thanks, endurance laps. That muscle on top of my thighs exploded (no, not literally. Gross.) and I have this muscle on top of my knee** now. When I stand straight up and look down at my toes, I can’t see my shins anymore because they’re blocked by my derby thighs. I’m elated. My calves are following suit, especially with off-skates footwork training.

My body has gone through a lot of loss, gain, gain, loss in ways I didn’t expect. I assumed that I wouldn’t change because I was already “average” and so roller derby couldn’t affect me this much physically and psychologically, but it has. It’s a whole process of re-adjusting, changing expectations, changing goals and self acceptance.

Some things that have helped me along the way are:
-I don’t use a scale. Ever. That number doesn’t matter. How fast my laps are, how many points I score, how many points I stop — those numbers matter.
-I now know my body is going to continually change depending on my needs and my training. Whatever my body does is what I need.
-Eating more meat. It’s the easy way to get protein.
-Protein shakes. Same.
-Judging my strengths in non-body metrics. Speed, agility, stopping power.
-Changing my image consumption from main stream to athletic.
-Not reading those “fitness” magazines if they have “10 Ways To Lose That Stubborn Belly Fat” or “Three Ways to Make Him Squirm****” cover stories

It’s been difficult at times. I’m happy with myself and my body now. I don’t focus much on the details of what’s changing month to month. If I see a new muscle, I welcome it. If I continue to grow into a larger human being, all the better to block you with. I expect my struggle now to evolve into keeping this muscle now that travel team season is over. It took a long time to get to this level of acceptance. And some days it’s still hard.

I’d love to open up this conversation in the comments. I’ll watch the conversation and chat with y’all. How has derby changed you, physically? Have you had to readjust your thinking? What has helped/hurt? If you only lost weight, was it a nice experience or was there turmoil too?

*Thighs are wonderous. I know this now.
**What the hell is that about.
***This is where I validate the public and say all bodies are OK and it’s OK to be skinny. Whatever.
****How is that fitness.

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About hsteeves

Hard Dash
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26 Responses to Our changing bodies: How roller derby made me smaller, bigger, bigger and why that was hard

  1. hsteeves says:

    I’d especially like to hear from people with different body types than mine.

  2. chrome molly says:

    I’m in a slightly different boat than you and probably most other women. I grew up in a family where voluptuous women were the norm, and I went from a chubby baby girl to an androgynous beanpole in record time. I spent much of my childhood recoiling from insults and off-handed comments from family members. My dad once joked that he really had two sons and not a son and a daughter. Couple this with tomboy tendencies and I did not have the typical American girl upbringing. And very early on in my life I fell in love with movement and sports, so I always thought of my body as a vehicle.

    My late teen years were a mess (TMI for this venue but just accept that) so I didn’t do a great job of taking care of myself. Still moved my body a lot, especially since I worked as a bike messenger. Once I got some pretend kind of handle on my life, my body decided to rebel, in a way: suddenly I had a female form. No joke: I honestly didn’t have breasts or an ass to speak of until I was 22. Friends told me I was finally hitting puberty. Part of me was stoked because maybe I’d have family let up a little about how I looked. The other part panicked because I took some pride in being athletic and lean, and now what was going to happen? Then there was the new-found and somewhat unwelcome attention I started receiving from others.

    I found derby later in life, so by then I had made peace with this weird and unpredictable vessel I use on a daily basis. I appreciate the fact that derby lets me be somewhat curvy and athletic at the same time, and that I will be judged by metrics and not by my size or weight. I found it complimentary when someone wanted me to be in a wall with her because “together we’ll make a wall of ass!” I can more easily write off any unwanted attention (though at times it’s still not welcome) because I can turn shit around and appreciate the strength and power I’ve cultivated in this body.

    That said, I feel we are starting to see a bit of size-ism in derby, and that scares me. I hope we can protect the space we created for women (and men and genderqueers) to be who they are physically without sacrificing the commitment we have to growing the sport.

    • hsteeves says:

      That’s really interesting.

      I also worry a lot about sizeism in roller derby. We’ve lost a lot of our bigger skaters. The D1 tournaments don’t have many large athletes, if any. I think most of this can be attributed to the elevation of the sport and how that translates into training (need better endurance, which means more laps, need more injury prevention by crosstraining … all that might result in weight loss). While it’s nice to think that everyone just got super fit, it’s probably more likely that the elevation of the sport (and the intimidation that comes with that for new people at bigger leagues) and the upping of some league’s standards pushed some of those people out. Or the larger people who would have tried out for fresh meat may be less likely to now.

      There could be lots of reasons. But I hope it’s not because larger skaters are being shamed/bullied out of the sport. Part of the beauty of the sport is that accepting-of-all-types atmosphere you touched on, Chrome Molly.

  3. Random Skater says:

    I’ve been skating for just over a year, and while I’m the biggest I’ve ever been (I’m 5’1″ and about 220 lbs.), I’m in amazing shape. I’ve got a lot more work to do to get my endurance up, but my body hasn’t actually changed all that noticeably. I know it has, because I’ve gotten heavier without getting bigger, but I haven’t had that dramatic weight loss that a lot of people have.

    We don’t have problems with fat shaming in my league, and it’s awesome. My size is seen as an asset – since I’m so short, I can get really low and I’m so dense that it’s nearly impossible to knock me out of position. When I’m getting individual coaching, it’s geared toward using my size to my advantage. We actually have girls that are working to bulk up in the off-season, because being skinny isn’t necessarily ideal in derby.

    I think you’re right about the higher levels of competition, though. It takes more to perform at that level, and that kind of training isn’t conducive to carrying a lot of extra weight. I think derby is still very accepting of all body types, and I see more celebration of all body types than I do any sort of shaming or ridicule.

  4. sarahgiffrow says:

    Well, you asked about those who have different body types from yours, and I’d have to say I’m most definitely that!

    I could write forever about my weird, strained, and oftentimes awful relationship with my body, but in short: I was a two-bottle baby, a chubby kid, an overweight teenager, and sedentary throughout. Always large, clumsy, and awkward. Constant input from the media, and from my Size-2 Chinese mother (I got my dad’s sturdy German body type) had me thoroughly convinced that I was a fat blob. As fat as I thought I was, though, I didn’t become actually-fat until I went to college. Once I got there, depression and the ramen-noodle lifestyle kicked in, and I packed on 50+ pounds.

    After a few years of that, I started dropping that weight in 2003, when I took up martial arts and actually stuck with it, but even after getting down to my current size, it didn’t seem like enough. I knew I wasn’t fat anymore, but I still felt like a behemoth whenever I went to tournament, and stood in a sea of competitors who were shorter and thinner (and more graceful) than I could ever conceivably be.

    Various parts of my body have fluctuated here and there since starting derby, but although martial arts made me lose the physical weight, derby is absolutely the thing that helped me start to shed the emotional weight of being heavy. Derby is a sport that has room for all body types, and my inherent hugeness finally seemed like an asset, rather than something to put up with, or be ashamed of. My legs have probably gotten even bigger over the past three years, but if I can keep skating faster, hitting harder, growing stronger, and becoming more awesome, who really cares if I never hit a single-digit dress size? I’ll take my strong and capable body over my mom’s frail Size 2 frame any day.

    I now weigh about the same as I did when I left high school, but I look much different: fitter, leaner, happier. Scales are dumb. Fact is, I’m always going to be a large person, but I’ve stopped feeling so hopelessly sad about that. Every time I complete a set of push-ups, run through a pack, or absorb a hit like it’s nothing, a little more of that sadness goes away.

    I really, really hope that derby continues to be a place where others can find self-acceptance, and start seeing their bodies as the wonderful, potential-filled machines they are. There’s room for all of us, both on the track, and in the world. 🙂

  5. Tough Shitlam says:

    Wow, did I ever need this post. I read the whole thing three times before I could scroll down and comment. I’ve been skating for nearly a year (two weeks until my derby anniversary!) and I’ve been aware of my body changing in some ways the whole time. I’m always aware when I’m getting fitter and putting on muscle, and I was fine with that. I’ve always been small-but-stocky, so my chunky legs getting a bit chunkier wasn’t anything new. But it’s only in the last few weeks that I realised I’d started losing weight, and THAT was when it started to upset me.

    Mentally, I think I saw the previous changes to my body, getting bigger, as more normal. Like it was kind of within the range of size changes I was used to, so it didn’t really count as change. But losing weight was somehow ‘real’ change. My body now looked different in the mirror to the way I saw myself in my head. I spent far too long looking silly in clothes that were too big because aside from the fact that I hate shopping, I couldn’t believe that this was the shape I was now and kept expecting to go back to ‘normal’ any time now. I finally went out and bought a few new outfits that actually fit me right, and it felt a lot better, but I’m not all the way there.

    I still haven’t really figured out my diet. I spent about a week eating heaps of junk food in a misguided attempt to get my old body back and feel more normal, but that didn’t work and just made me feel horrible. Now I’m trying to up my food intake in a healthy way, but it feels weird. And I’m not entirely sure what I’m trying to do. Am I trying to get back to my old shape or maintain this one? How do I know if I’m eating enough or too much? I thought I knew how to be mindful of my body and eat what I felt I needed, but this has all thrown me off.

    The worst thing about this particular part of my derby journey has been feeling like I couldn’t talk about it. Everyone seems to expect you to be happy about getting thinner, and I felt like telling my friends and family it upset me would come across as veiled bragging or being ungrateful. Thank you so much just for bringing it up.

    • hsteeves says:

      Thanks for your note. I feel ya.
      I thought on these ideas a lot today. I think what I really wanted to say was: all women have body hangups, no matter what she looks like and change is hard.

  6. Sweet Jane says:

    Roller derby has definitely changed my body but it’s changed my relationship with my body more.

    I had bad body image issues starting from the time I was 12 and only moving toward resolution starting last summer. I’ve never been overweight, but I never thought my body was good enough. I was in the hospital for a week when I was 13. I lost about 20 lbs., and looking in the mirror with my hipbones jutting out, I remember thinking I looked just okay. In part, I blame my mom (who is actually a lovely person and I love dearly). I’m probably forgetting all the good things she said to me, but I just remember the her slipping in comments like “you really do look better 5 lbs lighter” here and there. She didn’t say it often, but the words coming out of her 4’11” and 95 lbs body hurt. For a couple years I used to wear baggy sweatshirts/hoodies with jeans every day. I didn’t like taking the sweatshirts off and I didn’t like being seen. I’ve also always had thick legs for my size and I’m pale pale pale and don’t tan. I never wore shorts. I’d wear jeans in Utah during the summer on 100 degree days because I was ashamed of my fat, white legs.

    From childhood to adolescence, I never exercised. I used to beg to stay inside for recess and when I inevitably got turned down, I’d just bring my book outside. In high school, I had a variety of clever plans for getting out of gym while still getting marked present. Even though I never moved, I was never overweight because I watched what I ate carefully and my relationship with food was very shame based. I counted calories. On days that I slipped up and ate more than I thought I was supposed to, I would berate myself. Every day, I resolved to be better, start over again. Dieting was very absolute; either I was doing it right or I couldn’t do it at all, then would drown my despair for messing up in ice cream.

    And then I started skating. I started hanging out with women of all different body types. I started realizing all the awesome things my body could do, which I never knew about because I had never tried exercising in the past. I learned that my body isn’t just an accessory and that its job isn’t just to look pretty. I learned that the only opinion that mattered is my own. I learned that negative self talk will get me nowhere, and growth happens faster when my body and mind cooperate.

    In fact, I wish I had a little bit more mass because my biggest struggle in skating right now is feeling powerful. I feel small and there’s a certain desperation that comes with it when I skate. But I’m working on my mental game by remembering moments when I’ve been powerful and am working on getting stronger.

    In all honesty, I’m the same numbers size as I was in high school. I still have lots of my old clothes, but they fit me a little differently. I’m definitely stronger now. I don’t count calories anymore and if I’m still hungry, I’ll eat two dinners. I love my body because it is strong and it is my own and this self love/acceptance is thrilling and liberating. And, sure, my body is not perfect, but it never had to be.

  7. Reirei says:

    You’re not alone with the weird above knee muscle/fat thing. It makes me really self conscious if I don’t have stockings/leggings/etc on, but I think that’s ’cause I’m still overweight. It doesn’t help that I have fairly lean calves and bulky (fat and muscle) thighs, but I’m hoping I’ll feel less badly about it when my thighs are as lean as my calves.

  8. uvgucci101 says:

    This post is great! I’ve been training for months ahead of making the Naptown Roller Girls. I’m also the heaviest I’ve ever been (5’2″/147 lbs). I’m also a gal who has struggled w/eating disorders for much of her life. I will say this – exercise/skating has aided with my body, both physically and mentally. I feel better. I have more energy. Yes, I am heavier. But (and I’ve seen photos of my thighs), much of it muscle. Which is super cool!

  9. Wicked says:

    Love this! I’ve struggled with my weight for the last few years, I seemed to gain my ‘freshman 30’ right after I graduated college instead of when I first started. I started playing derby a year and a half ago, and only just recently have I started to get my mind wrapped around such things as protein intake and cross training outside of derby. I’ve noticed a huge difference in how my legs look and how they seem to carry me way easier than they ever did before, and how my body is able to do derby better. I still have a ways to go before I get to where I think I need to be physically, but now I look forward to having thunder thighs and a huge ass as opposed to being a skinny bitch! I find the teams I skate with in California are way ahead of my Maine team as far as ‘caring’ about strength training outside of derby, and they add more off skates workouts to practices. Practicing 6 days a week in California also helps!

    ~Wicked

    Love your blog!

  10. I *love* this post, thank you so much for writing it. Took to heart the comment about caring about the numbers that matter – laps you can skate, points you can block, and ditching the numbers that don’t (the scales). Going to store that away in my memory for the next time I worry about weight.

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  12. Kate says:

    I’m going to a practice with the Rockin’ City Rollergirls tomorrow evening, and I’m pretty excited. I’ve always been thin and tall, so much so that my mom has begged me to be Olive Oyl for Halloween every year since I was 12. I’m looking forward to joining a team somewhere, someday, and getting that bulk that I admire so much in derby girls. Tall and powerful? Yes, please.

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  14. Bonnie says:

    I love how my body is changing. I feel strong and athletic. I feel confident, even though I still have some cellulite and baby tummy stretch marks. I know derby is motivating me to get fit. My only real problem is finding clothes to wear. I know it may sound trivial, but I don’t have an unlimited budget and I am seriously frustrated about clothing that is for sale in shops in my town. It is getting warm out and I still have not found a single pair of shorts that fit over my “derby butt” and “thunder thighs.” I can’t go to work in my workout pants, but right now I am down to one pair of jeans and one pair of slacks that “fit.” I have tried on everything I can get my hands on in my small town. I have made trips to outlet malls in cities up to 2 hours away and no luck. I have consulted with my very fashion conscious sister who thought she could help me until she actually came shopping with me and admitted she had underestimated the problem. It is getting to the point where I am contemplating learning to draft my own pants patterns and sew them myself.

  15. I found this article on Pinterest today and I can’t tell you how much I needed to read this. Four months ago I realized that I couldn’t skate on 500 calories a day when I was working out up to 5 hours a day. I was progressing as an athlete and I was killing myself. Unfortunately for me I ended up having to seek treatment for what had turned into a very ugly eating disorder but it was my love of roller derby and my desire to be strong that got me through it. It never really occurred to me that there were others who had very similar struggles as me. Thank you for sharing your story and your insights. I’ve been struggling lately to keep myself on the healthy track I set despite an incredibly supportive derby team, family, and support people. I head back to derby this week for the first time post-treatment. Thank you for reminding me this is real, challenging, and incredibly rewarding.

    Fallrisk

  16. BlueEyedPoizon says:

    hi! I discovered your article on Pinterest. I couldn’t relate to all of it.. But most of it hit home. Since I was a pre teen I struggled with an eating disorder. Always obsessed over making my body smaller and a cardio junkie so I didn’t bulk up from weight training. (Which I know is wrong now) I am now 23 and am only 3 months in to my Derby Career and it has done so much for me. I can already feel my confidence picking up. I haven’t weighed myself in over a month. (Used to weigh myself up to 4 times a day). I can feel my body changing, some areas slightly smaller. Others larger. But I’m proud of my muscles. I no longer fear the “athletic” or “thick” build. I find myself wearing clothes like actual shorts.. Not capris.. And muscle tanks now. Which would’ve never happened pre derby. I am not comparing myself to the *skinny chicks as much. And this is only a few months in. There are days were I still struggle. I slip up. But I have a lot more good days now.

    • hsteeves says:

      I’m glad you’re having more good days. It takes a lot to accept/love yourself and start to see your body for what it can do, not what it looks like. Sending love to you. -Dash

  17. I dropped about 20lbs of baby weight in the first 5 or 6 months of starting derby. This felt awesome! Then it became obvious that my body needed more fuel than I was used to giving it and some weight came back with those larger meals. I especially didn’t like gaining “belly”, I thought I was on my way to smooth sexy abs ready for bikinis at the pool. Nope. Your statement about real abs struck a chord. What I pictured in my head (bikini ready) does not equate to healthy or strong (derby body!), and being healthy takes priority.

  18. Erin Taylor says:

    I was really considering trying out for derby and started training (skating a ton at my local rink) for try outs. But I’ve decided not to do it. I can’t stand how bloated and muscular my thighs have become. And I just can’t change the way I feel about my body. I’ve always been deeply insecure about my muscular legs/chunky thighs and have worked/dieted really hard to keep them slim. I am bummed that I cannot have the body I want and be in a sport I love.

  19. Betty says:

    My body. It’s been everything from a temple to a prison. I’ve always been too tall, too wide, too ‘thick’, too clumsy, a regular bull in a china shop. When I started my journey to become a derby athlete, I finally began to see myself as something more. I’ve spent a long time trying to understand my body and how it responds to diet and exercise. It’s a daily effort. As I’m entering into peri-menopause, as a new derby skater, it’s even more of a challenge. Talk about puberty again, wtf?!?! I’m getting to know my body better than I ever have. Thankfully, derby has a place for me. I’m learning to appreciate my size as a blocker, but I look around me and see small, lean, agile, gazelle-like skaters and can’t help but think I don’t have the ‘right’ body to be a good jammer. I think ‘if I were only smaller and thinner.’ I know that’s not the answer when I look at jammers like Scald Eagle. It isn’t the cellulite, the stretch marks, the fat rolls that are holding me back, it’s my mind. I’ve been led to believe that I’m supposed to be a certain size to be _________ (and you can fill in that blank with almost anything, it would apply). Derby is teaching me that isn’t true. My body will do what I teach it to do, if my mind allows it. My body will change in response to what I’m asking of it. I can’t really predict what that will look like, just as I can’t predict what I will look like 10 years from now. I guess what really matters is: how do I feel and can I do the things I want to do? My body is changing every day, but it’s okay, it has to change to do the things I’m asking of it. I think I can accept that.

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