Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Do I Have to Wear Fishnets to Play Roller Derby?

In short - no, but the longer answer is one that I've been thinking about for a while now.

For some people the stereotype of roller derby as a performance sport made up of face paints, costumes, personas and eyeliner is what attracts them to it in the first place. It's somewhere where you can become someone else on track, dress up and be part of a tight knit group. It welcomes those who feel excluded from more traditional sports for one reason or another. Overall, it just looks like a lot of fun.

And it is, but as the sport tries to put more of a focus on its athleticism rather than its uniform, do we have a responsibility as skaters to move away from the fake names and fishnets?

With these included it can be hard to explain to the uninitiated. The fake names don't sound dissimilar to some you would find in a burlesque line up, whilst the short shorts are, well, pretty short, which makes it difficult to get people to focus on the blood, sweat and tears involved rather than the amount of leg on show. Throw in some loud music being played over the bouts and the skate outs and flags, and it begins to smack of a staged performance.

But what's so bad about women turning to costumes, make up and fake names to boost their confidence and feel good about themselves? Isn't that what we've always done? Should we think less of those who have to rely on a bit of war paint to feel confident in comparison to those who just skate in a pair of sports leggings and get on with it? For some people maybe just the lacing up of the skates is all that they need to boost their confidence, but for others there needs to be a physical mask and transformation before they can happily skate out.

You could argue that instead of seeing this act of dressing up as a form of liberation and empowerment, it's just another example of how we, as women, have internalised the idea that the main priority for each and every one of us is our appearance. And more importantly, how others see us. So then this dressing up is really always for the audience rather than the skater? Also, why does female empowerment seem to be synonymous with getting undressed? Can't we do it with our clothes on?

However, this notion is in the same category as the supposed idea that women only wear makeup for men (or just anyone they want to find them attractive, I guess) but this is an argument that is constantly refuted, as people repeatedly say that they wear makeup for a number of reasons and attracting a mate is not the raison dĂȘtre. Sometimes they just like it. Sometimes it just makes them feel nice even if no one sees it. And sometimes it's just really pretty.

At the moment the WFTDA rules for uniforms in flat-track roller derby don't really go beyond team colours, numbers and not having safety pins on your shirt, and I don't know if they should. To take away the punny names and personas would be to take away something of the underground/grassroots essence of roller derby itself. I guess it's always been a bit edgy and different and that's why people find comfort and community in it away from mainstream sports. If it's struggling to be taken seriously in the world of sport because of others' preconceptions then why should roller derby have to change to fit in with that rather than the other way around? Who decides what makes a 'true sport' anyway? The definition of sport is just 'an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment' which definitely applies to roller derby.

If it's the fishnets and face paints that is encouraging more women into sport and inspires confidence, then why not? Because we need to make it easier and more accessible for women to take up a sport.

So if dyeing your hair purple and wearing rainbow socks is your thing, then that's cool with me. If you don't know the difference between eyeshadows and eyeliners then that's cool with me too. It's all about freedom of choice and maybe we should just leave it at that.


  1. Emma I seriously LOVE this post. You've just summed everything up perfectly!

    When I first started derby, I was shy, had zero self confidence, and wore thick black leggings, long black shorts and a plain black t-shirt. I've changed so much since and now train in my trademark ripped tights (you know yourself, tights don't last long around kneepads!) and comfy sports shorts...but when I bought my legs are out for all to see! (and my arse if i don't watch my booty shorts).

    I think it's brilliant to have something to escape to - an alter ego to don and pretend you're someone else. I'll even go as far as to say I love being Strawberry Switchblade, smearing on warpaint and squeezing into tiny shorts. It's only objectification if you let it become that - for me it's a confidence boost, and almost like slipping into the Iron Man suit...on wheels ;)

    Excellent post sweets xxx

    1. Oh thanks Amii! I was a bit nervous writing it for some reason, so I'm glad you liked it! Oooh I like the idea of it being like an Iron Man suit and it's so nice to hear how much your confidence has grown since playing derby. This is why everyone should play ;)


  2. Just found your blog and I love it! New follower here, I can't wait to read more of your posts xx

  3. If Rollerderby lost the rocky edge and became too mainstream and overrun with rules it would TOTALLY lose it's indentity, I find the names and costumes more entertaining (to watch) than the actual sport! haha xo

    1. I do love the names, but I wouldn't be too annoyed if they cracked down on uniforms a little and maybe standardized them? i don't know, I can never make my mind up!


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