Women’s flat track roller derby is considered by participants a space for constructing positive images of diverse female bodies in sport, proclaiming that women of all shapes and sizes are welcome. However, despite evidence to the contrary, the universal claim of diverse body acceptance has not been fully interrogated within the literature. In this three-year auto/ethnography of a Midwestern Division 1 derby league, I ask: In what ways do women derby skaters talk about the derby body, and how do their behaviors coexist with the mantra of inclusion? I rely on participant observation, in-depth interviews with 13 skaters, and personal journaling of my experiences as a skater to problematize the notion that “any body can be a derby girl.” I argue that three contradictory discourses regarding skater bodies simultaneously permeate the elite derby space: 1) “size doesn’t matter,” or that function trumps body form, 2) “bigger is better,” or that larger bodies have greater value, and 3) “serious athleticism,” that skater bodies must have a high level of fitness to compete. I conclude that the mantra of acceptance within derby must be qualified given these other discourses, and that derby’s potential to empower participants and serve as a critique for mainstream sport is thereby limited.
The author is with the Department of Sociology, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.