Thursday, July 5, 2012

Roller Derby: It Does a Body Good

A few days ago, one of my derby sisters invited me to an event. It was a virtual event called I LOVE (all of) MY BODY! and I was so inspired by the stories posted there that I wanted to share more of my own story.

Joining roller derby two years ago did wonderful things for my life, but I have to say one the very best ways it improved my life was by changing my relationship with my body and improving my body image. I remember going to derby for the very first time and being awe struck at all the gorgeous, powerful women I was skating with. I am still awe struck by the beauty and power of every single person I skate with. Reading that they had insecurities made it easier to talk about and confront my own.  It also made me realize how important it is to be able to talk about these issues.  

My entire life, I have had serious body image issues and I have struggled with eating disorders since I was 13. By age 17, I was so severely anorexic that I could barely function and spent much of my time in the doctor's office and the hospital. At the time, I seriously thought dying was a better option than gaining weight. It was the darkest period of my life, and though I recovered enough to go to college, I struggled with eating disorders all through college as well. I saw my body as a constant improvement project and there was always some body or facial feature that needed to be improved upon. I was never really comfortable in my own skin. I was athletic, I ran marathons and half marathons, but the primary motivation behind running was weight loss, not becoming healthier or a better athlete. 

Fast forward to age 24. I am done with college, I have my first "real world" full-time job and I am still struggling with eating disorders off and on. I hear about roller derby on facebook, and decide to go to a practice that night. I was hooked instantly. For the first few weeks, I thought about how playing roller derby would be a great way to lose some weight. False! I watched the scale creep up more and more the longer I played. But for the first time in my life, I was starting to be ok with that. It was, and is, amazing to watch and play with gorgeous women of all shapes and sizes who are all so very talented and strong. I watched my body grow as I gained muscle and power, and I was excited to think that maybe I was starting to look as amazing as all my friends on the track looked. 

I still have some body image issues, but ever since I started playing roller derby, I have grown so much emotionally and physically. I've gained 20 pounds in the two years I have been playing, but I see those pounds as sources of power and muscle. It feels amazing for weight gain to be a good thing. It feels amazing to have a rear end and some serious leg muscles. It feels amazing to skate around the track and to be able to hit and block effectively because I am strong. It feels amazing to feel sexy and powerful not because I have reached some ideal weight or because I have "fixed" some part of my body, but because I am physically strong and healthy. It feels amazing to challenge myself mentally and physically. I am more determined, more motivated and much, much happier since joining GSORD. 

It's hard to talk about body image issues because society sets up an impossible standard of beauty and then mocks those who go to any length to attain that image. It's embarrassing to talk about eating disorders and all the ways in which we would like to change our bodies in order to look better. As hard as it is to talk about, it is important that we do so that we stop wasting so much time hating ourselves. One of my biggest regrets about my eating disorders and body insecurity is all the time and opportunity wasted. I spent so much time counting calories and working out to be rail thin that it consumed my life. I didn't go to the beach or the lake or the pool with my friends because I was terrified of wearing a bathing suit. I ruined my health and did some irreversible damage to my body. The stomach acid ruined my teeth and it has set me back thousands of dollars to fix them. I never thought I was good enough to be treated well in relationships. I don't ever want to feel that way again, and I don't want anyone to ever feel that way! 

Here is the lesson in all of this: Let's all engage in the very brave, very feminist, very empowering acts of loving our bodies instead of hating them. Let's let derby build us up, physically and emotionally. Let's talk about this stuff that is so very hard to talk about. Let's be grateful for the bodies that we have and the fact that we are physically able to play roller derby. Let's keep being real with each other.  Let's keep encouraging each other and reminding each other how amazing we are, because it is true. Ladies and gentlemen of Greensboro Roller Derby, you are beautiful and and amazing and inspiring.