Roller Derby: Creating a Stronger Identity

by September 1, 2012
filed under Life

Barb Lapointe is my role model. She is the coolest mom I know, and when I think about who I want to be when I’m her age, I think about being my own version of her.

I’ve babysat for Barb for a few years, and through that time I’ve seen bits of the derby lifestyle. At first it was a little intimidating, between the costumes and the action, but once I started to understand it, I really started to like it. Each woman has their own alter ego that they use during their games. Barbs is Banshee Barbrawler.

When I asked Barb about being a derby gurl, she said, “I’m one of the gurls on my team that wears a little bit of eye make-up. It’s almost like a little bit of a mask. I would never walk down the street in fishnets and booty shorts and knee high socks. It wouldn’t happen for me, for Barb. But when Banshee puts on just that tiny bit of make-up, and she’s got her helmet on, and everybody knows she’s a derby girl, she’s not afraid to do anything. So by having a little bit of that different personality, different character if you will, I’m so much more comfortable doing things I couldn’t do in my daily life.”

I find that amazing. Derby offers a safe, supportive environment where a gurl can find the backbone she lacks otherwise. It offers a sisterhood-like environment to explore your strengths. “There’s something really unique to roller derby and it’s called ‘derby wives.’ A derby wife is someone you meet through derby who doesn’t necessarily have to be your best friend but becomes almost a best friend. It’s like someone you meet for the first time, who you feel like you’ve known your entire life. Derby tends to have people who gravitate towards each other. It’s kind of unique out of any sport – I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Once you have a derby wife, she’s the one who’ll always have your back. She’ll tell you you’re crazy in private, but she’ll always have your back on the track or wherever. She’ll be the first to say, ‘Hit me as hard as you can. Show me what you got.’ I just can’t really describe it. It really is a sisterhood.”

On top of this environment where you can effectively grow self-esteem, you get a full contact sport for women, and there aren’t a lot of those. It’s a good way to get fit.

When Barb first told me she was doing roller derby, the image that came to my mind was that of a particularly rough bout in the movie “Whip it,” and I became scared for her safety, as she’s a mother of 2. But she explained that the derby we see now, the roller derby that’s making a bid for the 2020 Olympics, is not the same as the roller derby seen in the 70’s, which is what the movie is modeled after. They added some Hollywood magic into it to make it more appealing to the general public as well.

When I went to my first match, I was a little taken aback by what they wear. Booty shorts, fishnet stockings – it’s a little like walking into a superhero convention. The way their make-up is over-exaggerated and they’re dressed so extravagantly, I thought to myself, “that’s almost indecent, how they’re dressed.” When I asked Barb, she said it was a choice. Dressing like that is an option, not a requirement. Many of the leagues actually have uniforms that look like any other sports’ uniforms. For example, at last year’s very first Roller Derby World Cup, teams were in uniforms – sure, they may have had some fishnets on, but they were in matching clothes. The American teams also played under their real names, not personas. The focus for more professional leagues is shifting to a more professional look, but the beer leagues and local leagues will probably maintain more of the glamorous side.

When asked if there was a stigma about being a derby gurl, whether people think she must be a bad-ass, she laughed. “Roller gurls have to be tough. That’s probably not going to change. People go, ‘oh my god you must be tough.’ Well, you have to be somewhat tough to play roller derby, or you’re going to die. A lot of people who have any sort of preconceived notions about roller derby remember old-school roller derby. They have not experienced the new roller derby.”

I’ve always liked the idea of team sports, and I’m really glad to see one that is genuinely empowering and yet still about fitness. The next time there are try-outs for roller derby in my city, I might have to attend.

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