Tag Archives: body image

Proof that roller derby is better than other sports

Right now, I am the strongest I’ve ever been. I admire my biceps. I marvel at my muscular thighs. We had to put the Elvis mirror up higher in the kitchen because I was constantly checking out my derby butt.

It wasn’t always like this – when I was skinny and when I was fat, I still hid my body. I’ve never cared what strangers thought of it, but I’ve always been so worried that people I know will look at my not-perfect body and think less of me. (No doubt this comes from growing up in a family who felt entitled to comment on my body all the time. Particularly during puberty. If you feel entitled to comment on someone’s body, stop fucking doing that.)

I figured this new body confidence was the result of playing sport. Of being physically active in a way I haven’t been for almost 25 years. But it’s not. This body confidence, this body satisfaction, it’s not a sport thing. It’s a roller derby thing. Peer-reviewed research says so.

For a lot of female athletes, there is conflict between their social world and their sporting world: to be successful in the former, they need to be feminine in appearance and demeanour, but to be successful in the latter they need to have strong muscular bodies and show characteristics associated with masculinity, such as assertiveness and competitiveness (Krane et al, 2004). So while they are proud of their muscular bodies in a sports setting, they tend to be self-conscious and have lower body image in a social setting. That’s no surprise. The ideal Western female athlete is slim, toned, white, and heterosexual-presenting – hell, that also describes the ideal Western woman and it is so damn hard to not internalise all that patriarchal bullshit. But this is where it gets interesting. Research by Andrea Eklund and Barbara Masberg (2014) indicates that playing roller derby leads to better body image, greater body satisfaction, and – in a surprise to no one who has been around derby players – a tendency to wear tight clothes in daily life. Wearing tight/revealing clothing at training and in bouts gives derby players the confidence to wear tight/revealing clothing in social settings. This finding contradicts research into other women’s sports that indicates that wearing revealing uniforms leads to lower body confidence (Krane et al, 2004).

Eklund and Masberg (2014) suggest that derby creates greater body acceptance, and acceptance of all body types, because unlike other sports, derby does not have an ideal-typical body type for that sport. Derby values all body types. However, in one of the greatest sentences to appear in an academic journal, “It should be noted that the respondents valued “booty”,” (Eklund and Masberg, 2014, p. 60).

This high level of body satisfaction and acceptance is also found in rugby (Fields and Comstock, 2008) and in belly dancing, which is one of the few styles in which dancers are not pressured to lose weight or to conform to any particular body shape (Downeya et al, 2010). Like derby, belly dancing promotes healthy body image in participants. Downeya et al (2010) suggest that belly dancing provides some sort of “immunity effect” in relation to social norms about ideal body types.

So there you have it. Proof that roller derby is better than other sports. I love the idea of getting immunised against harmful Western feminine ideals. An injection would be easier than learning to play derby, but it wouldn’t be as much fun. Not by a long shot. I fucking love my roller derby team.

Downeya, D., Reelb, J., SooHoob, S., and Zerbib, S. (2010). Body image in belly dance: Integrating alternative norms into collective identity. Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 19, pp. 377–393.

Eklund, A. and Masberg, B. (2014). Participation in Roller Derby, the Influence on Body Image. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 49-64.

Fields, S. K., and Comstock, R. D. (2008). Why American women play rugby. Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, vol. 17, pp. 8–16.

Krane, V., Choi, P., Baird, S., Aimar, C., and Kauer, K. (2004). Living the paradox: Female athletes negotiate femininity and muscularity. Sex Roles, vol. 50, pp. 315–329.

Body judging and concern trolling

Today the Herald Sun has yet another Daily Mail re-write by the most over-worked journalist in the country, “staff writer”. Which is code for “I’m too ashamed to put my name on this rubbish” or “I’ve just re-written a media release or another journo’s work”. And it’s yet another story about Kate Middleton.

Kate risks becoming an ever-shrinking clothes horse:

THERE are concerns that the Duchess of Cambridge will turn into an ever-shrinking clothes horse with an increasingly fixed smile.

Who is concerned? The Daily Mail journalist spoke to someone from a model agency, someone from a lingerie company, and the editor of a fashion magazine, and no one said anything about being concerned. So the concern comes from the journalist, in order to write a story about there being concerns. And you write those stories because you want to point your finger and say “look! Look closely at her body and declare it not perfect”.

As Kate wowed the world with her stunning outfits during her tour of Canada and the US, there are fears that the increasing focus on her fashion choices will see her lose even more kilos, The Daily Mail reports.

If you’re going to pretend the “increasing focus on her fashion choices” is unhealthy, then you probably shouldn’t include a judge-a-matic on Middleton’s fashion choices:

Herald Sun - Judging Kate Middleton

The Herald Sun wants to you judge Kate Middleton's appearance

To add to the body judging, the Herald Sun includes photos of Middleton with two women who are either a different shape or a different age, and the captions invite you to look at all three and judge them:

Even US actress Reese Witherspoon looks big against Kate.
Kate made ever-skinny Nicole Kidman look well rounded at a function in LA.

So you look at Kidman and Witherspoon and judge their body parts. As though women are only as good as their body parts. (And also, if you do click on the link above and see the photos, that’s well-rounded?)

But it’s concern trolling. “Oh, we are so concerned that the focus on her body will make her lose too much weight, so here, have a good close look at her body and judge it”. Then, in a few weeks when a stalker – sorry, photographer – gets a photo of Middleton at a bad angle where she looks ribby, we’ll have the “LOOK AT HER FREAKY SKINNY BODY” and “FEARS FOR KATE’S HEALTH” and “TOO SKINNY TO HAVE BABIES” headlines. She just can’t win.

Having a body in public

It’s a lovely crisp day in Sydney, so it’s probably a bit odd to be thinking about bikinis, especially when I’m wearing a bright green knee-length skirt, navy tights and these fabulous un-summery shoes:

Swing shoes for men, from RetroSpec'd Clothing

Swing shoes for men, from RetroSpec'd Clothing

But I was reading If I Hear One More Word About Beach Bodies, I’m Gonna Strangle Somebody With a Tankini at xojane and this stuck in my mind:

I hate this term. It suggests that a body that is beach-worthy must adhere to certain standards, or else be rendered unbeachable.

I have a beach body. It’s this one, the one I take to the beach.

If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s about “killing your swimsuit anxiety in 5 easy steps” and it rocks.

I’m an intelligent woman who generally doesn’t buy into the beauty industry, but I’ve still internalised this idea that only perfect bodies can be on display in public. Because I’m not a beach person (pale English skin that burns like no one’s business), I don’t tend to see a lot of semi-naked bodies. The ones I do see are in advertising, and on my friends who have lovely legs, and on women I don’t know who have lovely legs. So even though I know that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, the ones I see tend to be all rather fabulous.

I am comfortable with my body, which is lucky because there’s not a lot I’m willing to do to change it. But it doesn’t mean I’m comfortable being semi-naked in public. Which is why my last two holidays – a hen’s week in Bali (not somewhere I’d normally go) and a week over NYE by a river in Tongaporutu in NZ – were initially challenging, but then reminded me of how wrong I am about what bodies look like. Bodies with cellulite, bodies with stretch marks, bodies with wobbly bits, bodies that have created babies, white bodies, tanned bodies, spraytanned bodies, muscular bodies, yoga-ed bodies.

I’m probably going out on a limb here, but I reckon my friends like me for who I am, rather than what I look like in a bikini. So why am I so nervous about being in a bikini around them? They might notice the big bruise on my thigh from where I clocked it on a railing (note to self: don’t walk around corners while looking out the window), they may notice my tats, they may notice my scars from an infection I picked up somewhere, and they may notice my cellulite. But they’re not going to care. And if they do care, well, it’s unlikely I’d have much in common with someone who would judge me by my arse.

Now, can you all remind me of this post in November?

Oh, the irony

It’s just way too easy these days to get your media release written up as a news story. I’m not targetting any specific newsroom with this criticism, because I work in one and know that when your editor wants a quirky little story, you’ll get a pat on the head if you can include boobs in it. But the time it takes you to re-write the media release and put in a call to someone vaguely related to the topic (in the case below, an art teacher), is time you could be spending chasing a real story. Something that is useful. Anyway, You’re a work of art, not a pear:

WHEN everything goes pear-shaped on a woman, she may not feel as pretty as a picture.

With some marketing magic, however, she can see herself as a Botticelli and her apple-shaped girlfriend a Rubens, rather than a Granny Smith.

Because yes! Women just want to feel pretty! And when we don’t feel “pretty as a picture” then it makes us sad. But not sad enough to cry, because that might make our eyes red and our make-up run and then we’d look ugly and we won’t be able to find a husband.

Lingerie-maker Triumph says women are tired of being compared to fruit and has taken a more romantic look at body shape, with Rembrandt, Matisse, da Vinci and Raphael the other classifications.

Here’s a hint: we’re also tired of being spoken to like we’re children. The other day, my news editor asked the newsdesk (on that shift, four women and no men) to find some stories that would appeal to female readers because the mix was “too heavy”. We asked him to explain what he meant by that and suggested he choose his words very carefully. We didn’t get an answer, but he probably meant stories like this one. “Light” stories, because you know, we don’t want to hurt our delicate lady brainz. And besides, thinking gives you wrinkles and you’ll never get a husband if you have wrinkles.

Triumph surveyed more than 1500 people and found men preferred the slender but larger-busted Raphael.

Firstly, there’s a fucking shock. And secondly, Triumph asked women how they feel about being compared to fruit, and then asked men to rate them as meat?

Body image stripped bare

I wasn’t going to blog about the Jennifer Hawkins nude marie claire cover because I thought we’d covered that topic before. But then I started thinking about specifics – what change do I want to see?

I should preface this by saying I don’t buy fashion mags, or Cleo or Cosmo or maire claire or NW or Who etc. But I do look at the pictures when I’m at the hairdressers (I don’t want to get dye on my glasses, so no reading for me). I’m not speaking on behalf of their readers – perhaps their readers like the unrealistic images presented to them (that wasn’t meant to sound so sarcastic). After all, fashion and beauty mags are about presenting a fantasy.

When I say I want to see images of ‘real women’ in the media, I mean images of what they really look like, without all the fucking airbrushing. That’s not the same as saying models should be out of a job. Like Corpulent, I don’t buy into the ‘real women have curves’ bullshit, because it’s insulting to women who don’t have curves and is exactly the same as saying ‘all women should be a size eight’.

I’m not an expert on body image, but I know my own experience. I didn’t think about how my body looked compared to other bodies until I was in year 8, and then spent the next 17 or so years feeling too fat/ugly. And that was before the crazy perfect body media saturation that we have now, so I can’t imagine how hard it must be for young people these days. Now in my 30s, my relationship with my body is more about friendship, but waiting until people grow out of their body image problems isn’t good enough. So how do we fix this? What one action do you think will make a difference?

More like Betsy Jinxx

Since I only work part time, I have a lot of spare time that I don’t use very well. I’m really good at doing nothing. The upside is I’m relaxed. The downside is I’m wasting time that could be spent reading, or practising my tap dancing, or improving my Spanish or shorthand. So I’ve decided to embark on a mini ‘How to be fabulous’ thing, but without spraypainting myself orange.

I started yesterday by looking for a pair of swimmers – which, if you know me, is pretty amazing since most of my body hasn’t seen the sunlight in over a decade. Possibly two decades. (I like to call my particular shade of whiteness my moon tan.)

I’m after a bikini because peeling off a one-piece to go to the toilet makes me feel vulnerable. I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a set of knockers, so finding a bikini is troublesome, particularly since the current thing is for padded and push up tops. I tried some on. And laughed. And then laughed again. Just thinking about moving made my boobs sway like a waterbed, so they’re not really something I can do laps in. If anyone knows of a good brand, please let me know.

So, why the heading? When I started thinking about someone who lives their life with passion, I thought of Man Friend’s sister. Betsy’s life is about passion and fun and creativity. And that’s what I’ve forgotten about lately.

Giving credit to Mia Freedman

Lexy just sent me the link to Mia Freedman’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on body image, suggesting I check out the comments. They’re pretty much all along the lines of:

Mia was the high queen of anorexia as editor of teen trash magazines and now she wants us to believe she has had some ‘road to Damascus’ like vision. If this is true then I hope she spends the rest oh her life trying to undue all the damage she caused in the past. But please save us the sanctimonious lectures.
incredulous – October 28, 2009, 8:52AM

Does is strike anyone else as grossly hypocritical that a woman who made her name out of being editor of three publications based entirely on making young girls feel inferior about their looks and bodies, should end up chairing a national body image advisory group?
Bit like a cannibal advising on healthy cooking and eating, isn’t it?
Sam – October 28, 2009, 9:04AM

I agree that Mia Freedman deserves some criticism for her past role as editor, but to simply dismiss what she now has to say means we’re not going to get anywhere. She has more power now, and we’re all a bit wiser. Besides, don’t we – as a society – believe in the power of redemption? Otherwise why do we let people out of jail? Why do we accept apologies and forgive people? And believe that opinions can change over time?

Check out the recommendations from the national body image advisory group on Mia’s website.

What do we think? Will it work? Or will we just have a week or two where it gets publicity and then it’s business as usual? Will models in magazines and ads continue to look like those in Vogue, or start to look more like those in Women’s Health?

Update: You should read what A shiny new coin has to say about how a “thin, white, wealthy woman who makes a living from her body meeting social standards might not be the best way to raise awareness on diverse body shapes”.