Exhausted and relieved, I crashed back to the exercise mat. It was fifth grade gym class, and we had just completed a minute-long sit-up test. I had cranked out more than most in my class. The boy next to me, however, was only aware of the tremors in the mat radiating from my last one.
“Geez, ease up on the Ho-Hos, why don’t you?”
But I’ve never even had a Ho-Ho.
Indignation, shame, anger all coursed through me and flushed my cheeks. That boy radiated judgement and assumptions. I knew he was wrong … about most of it. Of course, I said nothing in my own defense. Instead, I mentally added sit-up vigor to a growing list of body-conscious issues to worry over.
Such an encounter was nothing new. As early as first grade, I towered over most of my class, including the boys. In the second grade, my girth caught up to my height. Sometime around third grade, it began to outstrip my height. Next to cute, petite little girls, I felt like Shrek with my supersized body. I became ashamed of the space I took up. I learned to suck in my breath, shrink into myself, pull in my arms and legs tight, try to occupy no more space than an average person. It was my burden to carry, along with all that extra me.
Then skating and roller derby came barreling into my life. I had dreams of becoming a graceful, nimble skater like Suzy Hotrod or Francey Pants. I went to bouts and imagined myself jamming through tight spaces, lapping the pack. This was the skater in my head. In the rink, though, I still felt clumsy and unsure. I didn’t skate like anyone I knew, certainly not like anyone I admired.
At Rollercon, I attended an on-skates seminar, “Does This Make My Butt Look Big?” Like a bird puffing up its feathers to look intimidating, our goal was to make our asses more intimidating, into the biggest obstacles they could be. I was a natural. For the first time, I wasn’t focused on defying the laws of physics. Quite the opposite; I unfolded from myself. Years of self-consciousness melted away. This is what my ass was born to do.
At practice a few months later, I was struggling with a drill. As usual, I was caught up in where to put my feet, wishing they were quick and nimble. After a particularly disappointing performance, our coach for the drill, Ivanna Schoop, skated up to me.
“You know, you have so much power; I would love to see you harness it. Use that leg of yours, with all its strength, to push those bitches out of your way.”
Dazed, I skated away from Schoopie on a cloud.
On the car ride home, I mulled over her words. I would probably never be fast and nimble like Lola Blow or Queefer Sutherland. With just a few words, the imaginary skater in my head was hip-checked right off the track. Another skater was forming in her place. She uses her ass like a weapon, harnesses her mass and strength for offense and defense. She may not zip through tight spaces between skaters, but she makes her own holes on the track. This skater holds her own valuable place on the team.
So what if my ass knocked things off shelves in a store? It could OWN a bitch out on the track. So it took me ages to track down a pair of jeans with enough fabric to cover that juicy butt. Nobody was getting past it on the track. So what if I towered above the rest of the pack like a giant? I could get loooow. And then? Good luck knocking me down.
Through derby, I stumbled on the most honest relationship with my body I’ve ever had. The transformation was huge, but I didn’t understand it fully until a Derby Lite student told me a story about one of my classes.
“You said something like, ‘with all this mass, I was meant to be a blocker.’ You just owned your body … all of it. It was like you realized the beauty and power in your own body, regardless of its size. It was so inspirational and empowering.”
I remember that moment and several others like it. There was no shame in my body, no apology or vain efforts to make it what it wasn’t. There was only truth and acceptance.
That student was more right than she knew. It was beautiful.
It was a goddamn miracle.