Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Game of the Name: Roller Derby Monikers

A roller derby player has several  things in common with a superhero.  A costume. Super powers (booty blocking included). Fans. And a secret identity.

Every player has her on-track persona, exemplified by her name. Our very own Team Canada has Killson from FCDG, Rainbow Fight from 709 Derby Girls, Georgia W Tush from Montreal  . And these women are superheroes on skates, make no mistake.

Derby names range from the cute to the punny to the frankly frightening.  And every one is unique – see for yourself. It’s true that there are some suspiciously similar names, but the roster is vetted for those. Once a name is put on there, it can’t be copied.

I recently read a really interesting post on derby names that posited that in order for the sport to move forward, names need to be vetted for content as well as originality. The post correctly points out that sexist, misogynistic or offensive names shouldn’t have a place in derby.

But it can be difficult to separate sexist from sexy and offensive from outspoken. There are terms I use that some might argue don’t have a place in family-friendly roller derby. For example, I have no problem with positive reclamation of the word 'cunt' (Man, my Google hits are about to take a sudden left turn). And here’s where I disagree with the idea that derby names need to be policed for the good of the sport.

Roller derby is not soccer. It’s a sport that was rooted in crash commercialism and then revived and literally taken over by the women who played it. It’s not just a sport: it’s a battleground.  Roller derby is typified by a DIY esthetic and an in-your-face bravado.  It’s not a typical sport, nor should it be.

It’s not that I don’t think derby should spread. It’s doing that as we speak, crass names and all. But do I want roller derby in the Olympics? Frankly, no (and not just because several team sports like baseball aren’t either). To me, roller derby is best as an outsider sport and not because I want us to get to keep all the derby goodness to ourselves.  I want derby to grow without compromising what makes it special, namely that DIY principle, that feminist practice, that outrageous name on the back of a jersey.

But let's remember, folks: if your name isn't worthy of a superheroine, maybe you should reconsider, not for the sport, but for the players and fans around you. While you're busy being your own hero, you might be someone else's, too.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Business Review - Rollergirl

Today is our first business review, in which I'll describe my experience buying from a roller derby-related business. I thought I would start off by reviewing Rollergirl, a Canadian-owned, derby-owned business located in Vancouver, British Columbia. Here are the details.

What I Had Heard Prior to my Purchase:  Rollergirl came highly recommended by my fellow skaters. Their site has great resources for skaters and good selection. My biggest concern was pricing: I'm a derby girl on a budget and Rollergirl has only one yearly sale. It's a substantial sale, depending on what you're buying. This year, the best deals were on wheels, largely. Rollergirl also sponsors leagues, which is pretty cool.

The Buy: Riedell 265s with Flatout Wheels and Bones REDS bearings
Skate Tool
Riedell Toe Snouts

The Process: Before purchasing the skates, I was concerned about sizing. Since this was my first pair of new skates, I had originally wanted to buy them in a brick and mortar store, so I could be sure of the sizing. Since I couldn't find the price or model I wanted in London or Toronto, I decided to lie in wait for the yearly sale.

Rollergirl offers a sizing guarantee and has employees available by phone or email to guide you through the sizing process. Sizing is usually guaranteed - if the skates you order don't fit, they'll pay all shipping costs involved in the exchange except for international orders outside the U.S.

In my case, I emailed back and forth with an employee ahead of the sale, because they do not answer the phone or emails on the day of the sale.

The Result: All my gear arrived safely and in a timely fashion, considering I'd ordered the cheapest shipping. The package contained detailed instructions for attaching my toe snouts, which was a life-saver. I was a very satisfied customer.

Verdict: Rollergirl is a great online retailer. The customer service was unparalleled. However, prices can seem a bit steep, given just how much equipment is needed for derby. I would recommend waiting for Rollergirl's early spring sale and/or consider splitting shipping costs with a league-mate. Check to see if your league is sponsored by Rollergirl. Follow their sizing instructions if they apply to your purchase.

Details: Rollergirl's website
Rollergirl's Store
Returns Policy

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What's in a Derby Name? Choosing Your Persona

At the risk of passing on whatever Lovecraftian illness I have, which does seem to be aggressive enough to spread itself via blog posts, today we're talking choosing a derby name (more on the derby name as a phenomenon later this week).

Often, new roller derby players have a name in mind before they've tried their skates on. Others have months to find the right one. In both cases, they sometimes end up finding it's already taken by checking the International Rollergirl's Master Roster, (as we all must). When I started out, I was devastated "Bettie Rage" and "Pain Austen" had already been scooped up. Whether you're just starting out considering the name you'll give to your derby life or you've come back to the drawing board, here's one model of picking your name and then some suggestions more generally.

When I started skating, I made a list of names I liked. Being a grad student in the humanities, I went largely for puns related to literature. When the more obvious ones were taken (though "Charlotte Brawn-te" is still free, I think) I got creative. Not every skater uses a pun for her name, but I'm very into puns, so making weak plays on words felt natural to me. In the midst of a brainstorming session (and boy, was there a list of at least fifteen possible names), I thought of "Cthulhu Lemon", riffing on H.P. Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu", a cosmic horror story, and LuluLemon, purveyor of expensive yoga gear.
Terrible, Terrible Photoshop by me. Yes, that is a Lemon

In my case, I risked a lot of folks not getting my name or even knowing how to pronounce it. With my stutter, I myself have a lot of trouble with the hard 'C' at the beginning of my derby name. I can admit that this is at least a bit funny. I'm often Lemon for short. These were things I should have considered, though accessibility and pronunciation will matter more or less depending on the player. All in all, I love my name because it's geeky and weird and that's me on or off the track.

Seven Suggestions For Selecting Your Sobriquet

1) For guidance, try picking a theme. Celebrity names are often a go-to (our league has Kat von Damage). Riffs on your real name are also a possibility (hence our Killer Suenami). Do you want it to relate to your hobbies, your work (our own Sewer Princess works for the city), your own personality, or on the flipside, something with nothing to do with your real life at all?
2) Get ideas from friends and family. You'll get some groaners, sure, but they may surprise you.
3) Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Have back-ups. There are a lot of derby girls out there and some of them might already have the name you want. Don't just change one letter so you get to be "Betteee Rage". Get creative. Having a great derby name is a point of pride.
4) Consider how the name will shape the expectations of other players. Do you want to seem fast, sly ...homicidal? Consider how it will make *you* feel to be called by a certain name or a shortened version of this name.
5) Check your name out. Is it offensive? Is it misogynistic? Remember this is a representation of you and your league. This is what you might be called while playing for your country at the Roller Derby World Cup, if you're particularly awesome.
6) Consider the implications of your name more directly. If it's a joke, do you care if people get it? Are you willing to explain if necessary? (Warning: this *can* be a bit of a hassle, but it's worth it if you love it.)
7) Check out resources like Rollergirl's Guide to picking your name, SVRG's Ultimate Guide, or Cherry Rockette's guide, which is particularly good for laying out considerations for the Master Roster.

Get your thinking helmets on, ladies.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Take Back The Night...On Skates!

On September 15th, I and several of my league-mates volunteered to be safety-sisters for London, Ontario's Take Back the Night march. For those who don't know (and until recently, that included me) Take Back The Night is a rally and march, held internationally, that brings women and allies together to protest violence against women, partriarchy, and the simple fact that as a twenty-three year old woman living in a city, I get nervous walking home alone at night.

Photo Credit Mike Maloney London Community News

Our London-VP suggested we volunteer for the march as a way of continuing our league's commitment to community involvement. Several skaters attended, some, including myself, on foot. We were safety-sisters, which meant that we wore orange and yellow reflective neon vests and walked or skated along the street median, so marchers would know not to walk past us and cars wouldn't hit anyone. It was honestly a little bit harrowing. Several times vehicles sped up as they passed us, potentially endangering members of a crowd of about 400 people. But we cheered and chanted anyway.

On my way to the rally, I was in a wretched mood. But when I got there, I was stunned by the joy and passion of the crowd and the organizers. When we marched, women shouted and waved to pedestrians and cars and drivers honked back. A contingent of male supporters applauded us from the sidewalk, holding up a banner that said "Men Against Violence Against Women". I was buoyed up by all the positive energy, all the intensity of feeling that rode through the street, contained only by a dotted line of women in neon vests.

As is probably obvious by now, my roller derby is feminist. I put on my skates as a feminist activist and I love the sport for many reasons, but chiefly because it is a sport that encourages women to know one another, to work together, to compete productively. For me, having roller derby players skate for a feminist march is not merely logical, but also the coming-together of two things I fiercely love.

What's next on my feminist agenda? I'm going to improve my transitions because I'm back on skate this week!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Fat Derby + Five Things You Can Do to Encourage It

What does it mean to be a fat roller derby player?

As discussed in a previous post, the face of derby is usually a very particular one: slim-waisted and large-breasted. Team logos and posters and other facets of the public persona of derby almost always feature slim women or stereotypical pin-up proportions. This is odd given that derby in actuality embraces lots of sizes. You do not have to be a size 4 (and a D cup to boot) to block, or even to jam, though smaller players are often assumed to be jammer material.  You can be a large player and still kick derby behind. It can be difficult, however, for players to speak and act the fat-acceptance the sport seems to encourage, while derby culture simultaneously places fat players under erasure.

(A side-note on language here: I am not using the word fat in a derogatory way. I am a believer in fat-acceptance and an enemy of body-shaming. Size is not a sure indicator of health. Fat-acceptance activists continue to work on reclaiming the word 'fat' and I'm going to respect their work enough to use it myself.)

by winterbutterfly81 on DeviantArt, quote from Julie Garwood

Derby needs players of all sizes. The greater our base of would-be players, the better our sport can be. That's not to say that we should overhaul roller derby for the masses and that we should rob the sport of what makes it wonderful, namely the DIY aesthetic, the focus on women working together, and the sport's ingrained humour. But we do need to look critically at how, regardless of our intentions, we actively encourage some women to play and discourage others.  As players and supporters of the sport, we have a hand in shaping it every time we play, every time we hang out with each other, every time we tack up a bout poster. Are you doing enough to encourage women of all sizes to join the roller derby family?

Some people might say that fatness is inherently at odds with being a good derby skater, that athleticism requires being slim and toned. I must call bull-shit on that one. A player's skill on the rink relates to their dedication, practice, endurance, speed, and a host of other things that are not necessarily dictated by a player's weight. Fitness is the key there, not weight. There are players in my league who are fatter than me but frequently skate circles around me.

Even more importantly, roller derby is not just a sport, it's a movement. It's one of the few women-focused areas we have that isn't solely defined by outmoded stereotypes of what women 'should' be. We have a duty to the women we play with to keep roller derby a positive space for women.

So how do we do this? How do we help roller derby progress? Here's five ideas.

1) We look more closely at how we brand our sport through logos, posters, and league websites. We make those representations of players more inclusive by featuring different sizes, by talking to the artists we work with.

2) We demand better from the companies we buy from. If their knee-pads only go up to an M/L and that's not big enough for you or some of your league-members, write to the company. Tell them they need to do better and they just might.

3) We demand more from the third-party companies who don't make merchandise, but do sell it. Ask where their fat models are. Offer to be one. Suggest merchandise with sizing and/or support for players of all sizes.

4) Eliminate body-shaming from your derby vocabulary. Stop saying "Oh, my thighs look awful in these short-shorts" when the player next to you, regardless of size,  might have thought she looked pretty fine in her hotpants right up until you said that.  Self-hatred has no place in roller derby. It catches. Judge yourself by your skill and dedication, not your size. Encourage your fellow players to do the same.

5) Talk. Organize. Educate yourself on the challenges fat players face. Look up fat derby bloggers and activists and get in touch with them. My league president has a fab fat derby blog at Vansterdamn XXX: True Adventures of a Big-Ass Derby Girl. Consider blogging yourself. We need more voices if we're going to have a good conversation.

In short, love your derby self and make damn sure you're encouraging your team-mates to do the same.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Fresh Meat Resources

Today, we link. Below are fresh meat resources, divided roughly by area and type. This list is by no means exhaustive and if you find a good resource, please include it in the comments! Lessons learned while researching this? I'm a little in love with Bonnie D. Stroir, but who isn't? Also, we need more posts and pages devoted to derby skills and skating technique training.

Meat chunks above, information chunks below.

Fresh Meat Basics / Misc.

Rollergirl's Fresh Meat File : basic but wide-spread in terms of coverage. A must.

More generally, Rollergirl's Info Page with basic skating, sizing, and gear maintenance This might save your skates.

Roller Derby Endurance Tips: Overview of suggested workouts to up your endurance, a must on the track. 

The Roller Derby ResourceRoller Derby Skating Skills. These people know everything.

Skills and Technique

(This area was especially lacking in my searches. We need more info!)

Bay City Bombers' Training Guide Comprehensive, drawn from a great deal of experience.

Striding Techniques for Skaters: Some links are outdated but it's a good start.

Instructional Videos (all on Youtube)

Derby Form by Stray Cat of Central Coast Roller Derby

Stops by Stray Cat

Crossovers by Stray Cat

Pack-Skating Basics by Stray Cat

Backwards Skating by Stray Cat

Sideways Skating by the San Diego Derby Dolls

Knee Slides by Stray Cat

Double Knee Slides by Stray Cat

Power Slides by the SDDD

Whips and Pushes by Stray Cat

Leg Whips by the SDDD

Backwards Whips and Blocks by the SDDD

Endurance by Stray Cat

Blocking by Stray Cat

Destructive Blocking by the San Diego Derby Dolls

Juking by the SDDD

Transitions by Expertvillage

Evasive Transitions by the SDDD

Specific Blog Posts

Roller Derby Disorder: Keeping all your derby crap clean. Know this from day one. Excellent linkage.

Derby Girls BlogGuest Post by Rockquelle Damage of the Denver Wreckin' Roller Rebels. Great tips on how to increase your chances of derby success by making small changes in your day-to-day life.

Queen of the Rink's top seven tips for fresh meat. Concise and smart.

The Paper Ecdysiast: Fresh Meat Tips. In case you missed last week's  outing.

Fresh Meat Blogs

Fresh Meat: Tales From Derby Wannabes Their substantial archive is particularly noteworthy for the edification of freshies. More anecdotal than instructional, but awesome all the same.

Diary of a DerbyWannabe, particularly their Ten Goals in Ten Months Section Bright blog, great insight into the fresh meat tenderization process.

Start your own. Here, for example. Or here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Zebra Love

The zebra was one of my favourite animals when I was a kid. It was like a horse, but with a cooler paint job. Today, the zebras I interact with are human ones - the fine referees of roller derby. Assuming you're not playing renegade derby, you need refs if you want to play the game. And derby is a damn complicated game.

Some of my favourite leagues, like Terminal City, list their refs as a kind of team all their own. When it comes down to it, refs have to pass their own skills testing, they have to know WFTDA rules inside and out and they have to deal with derby girls. It's not glamourous, but it is pretty bad-ass. As the Montreal Roller Derby Referees' page says, "No pain and no glory, not vain nor scary, just a simple concoction: Respect, rules and execution." Our zebras are part of what makes the derby machine run. They tell you that you're the lead jammer, they send you and your booty-shorts to the penalty seat.

When I first started practicing, I was struck by the seeming fact that refs were almost always male. Women's derby has two particular roles men can play, namely referees and coaches. At first, it irked me that these positions of authority were held by guys. Couldn't women ref? Couldn't women coach? Wasn't patriarchy one of the things we went to derby to escape, at least for the duration of a two-minute jam? It bothered me that a sport I identified as feminist just seemed to reinscribe tired gender stereotypes by having the women in fishnets and the men in positions of power. I've since learned that lots of women do both of these things, but the majority of women prefer to skate because that's what they came for. Skating is the sexy part. Reffing is a different kind of hard.

My league has several refs we know and love and these range from home-grown officials to volunteers we've borrowed from other leagues. My refs have taught me how to manage the penalty box and my refs have shown me how to handle my gear better. Referees are crucial resources for players, especially new ones, to learn about the game, their gear, and skating technique. So, in short, I say show your zebras some love today and ask them a question. These folks know their stuff.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Fresh Meat Tips

Today, we're going to go over my top five tips for fresh meat before, during and after their first few skates. Mostly these are things I wish I had known or wish my mama hens had shouted at least one more time so it might get through my baby duck head. Without further ado...

BEFORE skating

1) Stretch. Stretch, stretch, stretch. Try to get in the habit of doing it every day. It's good for your body.
2) Get to know your equipment. Check out resources like Rollergirl's guide to skate maintenance.
3) Hydrate. Fill a glass of water. Drink it. Repeat. Skating will have you sweating and being dehydrated will slow you down and distract you from learning.
4) Know your derby. Look up instructional videos on Youtube, like this one on skating. Check out the full rules on WFTDA and, again, Youtube for the basics.
5) Relax! You're a baby duck. You'll learn as fast as you need to.

WHILE skating

1) BEND YOUR KNEES. Seriously. You think you're low? Get lower. Bending your knees will improve your balance and leave you with less distance to cover when you fall.
2) Speaking of falling, practice falling on your knees. One knee, both knees. Do it until your body does it automatically when you start to lose your balance, otherwise you will fall on your bum and risk serious injuries.
3) Ask questions. Your league should have trainers, but I don't know a derby girl who  isn't invested on getting the skaters around them to skate better.
4) Remember that hydrating? Do it some more! Afraid you'll need a bathroom break? If you haven't gone to the bathroom in skates, you haven't lived. Also, you can take your gear off. There is always time for bathroom breaks.
5) Pick a skater whose skills you admire. Watch how she skates. Imitate her. This will engage your learning and very possibly get you a date.

AFTER skating

1) Stretch! We often cool-down by skating only and stretching is a key habit to get into.
2) Socialize! Go out to the bar afterward (even if you don't drink) or get in on social events. Getting to know the other girls can be hard at first, but the better you know your league, the likelier it is you'll keep going.
3) Analyze your successes and areas for improvement, but don't punish yourself. Ask your trainers if they noticed anything you really need to practice, then do so.
4) Find other skating opportunities. The more you skate, the better you will be. Look up local arenas if the season isn't outdoor skate-friendly. Offer to drive / pay for gas with other girls.
5) Use the internet to supplement what you've learned on-skate. Check out derby blogs. They're a 24-hour resource and the internet is a big place.

In closing, skate on, freshies. Everyone starts out fresh. Learn and pass on what you learn. Maybe even blog about it?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Derby Wifery

I do not have a derby wife. It's not that I disapprove of derby marriage, it's more that I'd feel awkward, perhaps even silly asking one of the girls in my league to be mine. Would they think I was secretly hitting on them? Would I be? Do I want to be a derby husband instead? These are the questions I'm faced when I consider foregoing my derby bachelorette-hood.

Some of you might be asking, "What exactly is a derby wife, again?" A derby wife is a woman, presumably on your team or in your league, who is your go-to girl, your derby soul-mate. A surprising number of definitions online describe her as the one holding your hair back while you vomit, which either tells us something about roller derby or about the people trying to define the sport's culture. Simply put, your derby wife is your  number one support - she might keep you motivated to stay skate-ready, she might untie your skates for you after you've hit the ground and are too dazed to deal with things like shoelaces, she might call you on your shit when necessary. Your derby wife is your partner.

There are some criticisms of the convention of derby wives. There's concern that this kind of pairing off of besties is a retreading of the kind of cliqueish behaviour that drove so many of us away from the society of other women in the first place. It can be easy to feel excluded when surrounded by intense bonds. I think those concerns have merit. Everyone in a league deserves the best possible chance of feeling welcomed and sometimes we forget how hard it can be to take those first steps into making friends with total strangers. If we are to support derby wife culture, we need to make sure we don't forget about the single ladies putting their hands up.

Because the derby wife phenomenon can be a wonderful thing. It's at the heart of what makes derby great: women coming together to support and challenge each other. Female friendship is incredibly fraught with societal pressures about competing with other women, particularly for male attention and the various successes of womanhood, namely marriage, babies, etc (which are not in and of themselves bad things). It can be incredibly hard to have healthy friendships with other women while operating within that system.

As I've said before in this blog, so many of my friends in derby have said, "I've never really had many female friends before roller derby". Roller derby creates a space where we compete on the track and we leave it on the track. When the clock isn't going, we allow ourselves just to be friends without the heinous fuckery of worrying our friends are thinner, prettier, and more adequate women than we are. And whether we want to identify one player as the focal point of that friendship and support or (like me) stay a derby lothario, we still engage in a community of female friendship that can be crucial to a woman's self-care.

So, I say, if you have your eye on a derby girl, feel free to make an 'honest' woman of her. But don't forget your sisters of skate, at least not once the honeymoon is over.

Slight delay

Today's blog post on derby wifedom will be showing up later tonight, my time. In the mean time, here's a picture of the Kitchener LOCO logo. Their Roll-a-Thon will be taking place on September 25th. Further details from their poster below!

Join your Kitchener LOCO Roller Derby skaters for a roll down
the Iron Horse Trail, from Victoria Park to Union Blvd and back!

Roll with us on your roller/inline skates, skateboard, or bicycle.

Any donation amount is welcome & appreciated! (Cash only please)

25% of all profits will be donated to the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign.

Meet @ 2:00 pm, Victoria Park Pavillion (Parking available)
Roll out @ 2:15 pm.  Rain or shine.

Monday, 5 September 2011

CSI: Miami "Wheels Up" Review

The only thing the CSI series is more famous for than showing 'graphic forensic content' at dinnertime is exploiting subcultures (furries, kinky people, you name it) to make murder investigations even more exciting. CSI tends to go for research over understanding, which in the case of roller derby representation, might actually be a good thing, because one of the most common complaints about derby in popular culture is factual mistakes. As promised last week, we're going to discuss the episode today.

Copyright CBS
So, how did CSI: Miami do? "Wheels Up" features the team attempting to find the killer of roller derby jammer Wrath of Connie. Along the way, they bump up against players, refs, boyfriends, brothers and an announcer who won't shut up - the typical roller derby crowd.

First, the pros of the episode: derby is shown fairly accurately. As you can see in the picture above, they have the gear seemingly right (see the pivot helmet panty?). They show players getting up in the penalty box (which looks like a prop in an exotic dancer club, but more on that later), they don't purely show derby as wrestling on skates. Players have individual personalities and back-stories. They even show a player who was seriously injured in a bout, leading to life-changing consequences. The representation of derby often doesn't get past the rink or address the fact that roller derby's sexy danger can have consequences, so it's heartening to see CSI doing so.

One particularly good aspect of the episode is an emotional explanation of what a 'derby wife' is, namely a fellow player you count on as your special derby buddy, your skate-sister, the person who gets in the ambulance with you. I know the derby wife phenomenon isn't popular with every player (more on this later in the week), but it's an aspect of derby often glossed over and in this episode, Wrath of Connie's relationship with her derby wife is one of the healthiest connections depicted in the hour.

Also, it's a bit of a True Blood reunion. Lindsay Pulsipher, who plays Crystal on TB, plays an injured derby player here. Todd Lowe, who plays the amazing Terry Bellefleur, plays a complete jerk here, albeit one on a motorcycle, so if that's your thing, watch this. Also, someone punches Ryan, so it's a good hour in television history.

Copyright CBS
Now, the cons: the show heavily relied on roller derby stereotypes to get its foot in the door. The official tagline from CBS publicity was "When the CSIs investigate a murder at a roller derby match, the only thing shorter than the girls' skirts are their tempers". You know, the usual. There are catfights. The girls are largely aggressive, even threatening, but almost never unsexy. A key plot rests on metal-reinforced elbow pads which would never pass WFTDA regulations and I strongly suspect would cost a player their spot on a team if discovered. The spirit of roller derby is still misunderstood here, I think.

Their "Sin Bin" isn't regulation (it only has room for one skater), but it's in keeping with the sexy vibe the show is going  for. Also, helmet hair is often suspiciously absent. Personally, I like my derby girls realistically gross, but the show apparently disagreed. The largely male CSI team dealing with the girls at the match and commenting by saying things like "I don't whether I'm scared or turned on" might be a deconstruction of the role of the male gaze in derby, but I doubt it. Largely, the team is there to get frightened and turned on , as is the viewership of CSI (let's be honest here).

Ultimately, the episode "Wheels Up" isn't bad. I was pleasantly surprised, even. But will someone tell the writers Corey Evett and Matthew S. Partney not to bother raising the spectre of the obsessive, potentially lesbian desire-fueled room-mate?  The only lesbian panic I want in my roller derby is being shocked to find we don't have enough of them and going out to get more.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Roller Derby Iconography: The League Logo

Copyright TORD
I'd like to blog today about one particular piece of visual derby culture, the league logo. A league's logo is often their first point of contact with the public. It goes on their t-shirts, it features on their website, it is in a very literal way, the league's face. More generally, the logo stands in for the league's players, telling potential supporters, skaters and opponents what to expect from that community of players.

Copyright Montreal Roller Derby

How do league logos represent the women and men who play the sport? Common themes include circular logos, skaters (often in pin-up poses), helmets, fists, wings skates and skulls, sometimes skulls with eyelashes (as can be seen here and here). Logos tend to incorporate themes of speed, violence and femininity, often coloured by the 'personality' of the city in which the team plays (i.e. the London Rollergirls). Our logos often speak in what is assumed to be the visual short-hand of derby: girls in skates, gorgeous gams, and potential gore. Because of this, logos that eschew a) a circular shape, b) a human figure and c) violent iconography often don't look like we tend to assume a league logo should. This is why, for example, Northwest Arkansas Roller Derby stands out from most league logos.

Copyright Northwest Arkansas Roller Derby

barcelona roller derby
Copyright Barcelona Roller Derby
Actually, I'd like to do a few shout-outs to leagues that, for whatever reason, choose to represent themselves without using human figures. These leagues stand out. In Canada, two of my favourite examples are the Forest City Derby Girls, who represent themselves with a flaming tree and the 709 Derby Girls, who have a damn straightforward logo. South of the border, the Silicon Valley Roller Girls' use of eye-catching text make them look iconic. Further afield from my laptop in London, Ontario, Canada, I find the Barcelona logo scary, which is kind of hot. Logos without human figures on them rather neatly sidestep the issue of how best to represent players (who have many different types of bodies) with one, static body.

Because one of the most common and fraught images on roller derby league logos really is that of a woman. Before I did my initial research for this post, I was hard-pressed to think of leagues that had logos featuring women who did not possess stereotypical 'pin-up' dimensions, featuring large breasts and hips and very small waists. For a sport that depends on women of all sizes, derby often tends to represent itself using only one body type. But I was very pleasantly surprised to be reminded that some leagues choose to represent themselves with logos featuring women of a more 'weighty'* size. One of my current favourite logos is that of the Rage City Rollergirls, basically because she looks a lot more like me that most derby logo girls do (I also have short hair and piercings, neither of which often crop up in derby logos, but that's beside the point).

Copyright Rage City Rollergirls
Of course, it needs to be recognized that derby logos are heavily influenced by Sailor Jerry-styled tattoo art and pin-ups more generally. Take a look at the WFTDA League page and you'll see a lot of anchors, wings, skulls, brass knuckles and girls drawn to look sexy by the conventions of SJ's heyday (that's not to say they aren't sexy now, but that the boundaries of sexy are much less narrow than this). This visual aesthetic is pretty solidly part of derby culture. That's not to say it can't be both appreciated and questioned.

One of the most telling differences between roller derby and, well, most other popular sports, most of which are played by men, can be read in a logo. How often do see male bodies in sports team logos? That's not to say that men's bodies are never depicted in these logos (see the MLB logo and the NBA logo), but it occurs less pervasively than the image of the female body does in derby, and is almost never sexualized to the same degree. (Sexy Toronto Bluejays, anyone? The fanart must exist.)

Is this a problem? I'm asking this question genuinely. I have friends who avoid derby specifically because of the sport's perceived sexism and friends who love derby because it is a real sport involving strong, sexy women and no mud-wrestling. I know players, myself included, for whom being on the track does make them feel sexy, for whom wearing fishnets and booty shorts is a reclaiming of their bodies in the face of a culture who would like them to wear these outfits only if they match a certain body type. How do we balance keeping roller derby empowering without resorting to slut-shaming a whole sport?

Personally, I'm not put off by a league's 'sexy' logo. I just wish derby had a broader definition of what sexy means. 

* A note on size: derby players and people more generally come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the very slim to the very weighty. The purpose of this discussion is not to put slim players or those with 'hourglass' figures under erasure. I think derby logos should feature all different types of bodies!