Roller derby has a problem.
Roller derby supposedly prides itself on being open to every size and body type. I do believe that is how it was truly intended when modern roller derby began just over 10 years ago. Teams recruited anyone to play, understanding that bigger people can make great blockers and even very good jammers. We have a strength, something different we can offer a team.
Roller derby, for Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) is meant to be open to all, and is skater owned and operated. As with any team or league, there are ups and downs, pros and cons. But in theory, there is room for fat people like me.
First, let me acknowledge the word “fat” in this instance is NOT used in a disparaging manner. It is a word that simply exists, and is a fact. I am fat. And there are other fat skaters.
When I began trying roller derby nearly 7 years ago, not only did I have to learn to skate, but I was the largest person on the team. There was one other person who was kind of like me, and she was and continues to be a source of inspiration. She helped me along as much as possible.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I attended a derby tournament. There were skaters present from different states and countries. There were skaters of all sorts of sizes across the board. There were many fat, or bigger skaters that had ill-fitting jerseys and gear. The tournament did not have size inclusive shirts…unless I wanted sleeves down to my elbows by wearing a men’s shirt. I know that larger, “women’s” cut shirts exist and I only had to go to a different table and make that point.
I was told by the hosting team’s person who placed the order, that “the logo looked bad on a larger shirt” and “they weren’t going to waste money on a shirt that didn’t look good, ” and “those shirts are more expensive”. Then, instead of hearing me on being size inclusive, this person offered an alternative: a beer koozie. A BEER KOOZIE. Because obviously that makes me feel better and included. My self worth to this person was boiled down to a “beer koozie”. Insert eye roll here.
Repeatedly this happens in the roller derby world in which it is stated SO MUCH: all body sizes are welcome, please come skate with us. But it’s really not.
My jersey for another team, couldn’t be made in a size that fit me. There was an attempt to find another company, but I think they just decided to go with who they had always ordered from. So I had to hide myself under sweatshirts etc. because of this issue.
And then, there was an email from a former teammate. Paraphrasing this is what was said, “I know we don’t have knee pads for larger skaters. I know this is a problem we have, BUT we have a couple of larger people who want to try and skate. Can we borrow your knee pads for them?” (It is customary for newbie skaters to borrow gear until they decide they want to skate and buy their own.)
I was so angry at this request and it took me a couple of days to figure out why this email bothered me so. I was the ONE “fat skater” they knew. That’s a problem. I didn’t lend my gear, as I am also skating and don’t have anything to lend, nor did I want to share my gear because I shouldn’t have to. I’m not a beer koozie.
Why should fat skaters be treated like a one size fits all beer koozie? I’m not the largest skater I know, and they have jerseys and team shirts that fit and look like their teammates. I am in a league now that doesn’t single me out as “the fat skater” in a bad way. Instead, they make it a priority to make sure every skater has something that fits them. I’m not an afterthought.
The roller derby community has a problem. It isolates fat skaters. Leagues don’t pressure manufactures of gear for an extra 2 inches of Velcro to fasten knee pads securely. They aren’t usually diligent about making sure t-shirts and jerseys are of appropriate sizes for their league members. With a little time and research, this can be done and I’ve found such places.
Being excluded from the tournament merchandise table, made me cry. Some who are insensitive will say that I should just lose some weight, then everything will be fixed. But those same people have never tried to find athletic gear or apparel for fat people.
I was also told by the Beer Koozie person that if I had contacted them, they would’ve special ordered me a shirt that would work for me. No. I shouldn’t have to do that. I shouldn’t have to do extra work to be included. As with any marginalized group it takes people, not just the marginalized people, to speak up and advocate, to their league, to distributers, to gear manufacturers.
I have one company in my arsenal that makes inclusive athletic clothing, and I’ve done writing for them because they don’t penalize me for being fat. They don’t look at me like a beer koozie. Whether you’re XS to a 4X, they have your ass covered….literally. This company is SuperFit Hero, and I encourage everyone to try their apparel.
This problem has to be solved. Isolation hurts. And as a fat athlete I hear, “You’re wanted and all body sizes are needed.” But really it’s more like, “Here’s a beer koozie that will fit any can you have. You either are size inclusive, or you aren’t. My hope is more teams and leagues will decide to advocate and be more diligent for fat skaters, because there’s nothing like a large ass to block an opposing skater from getting through.