Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sexy vs Tough: The Battle for Roller Derby's Self Image

Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid and some mean kid at school was teasing you about your unpierced ears, your lame hair or your unimpressive makeup skills?

This girl sure doesn't.

Whenever that happened, your mom was there to tell you that you were special, all that matters is what is inside of you and you just have to believe in yourself and be happy with who you are.  And then your dad came in right behind her explaining how the temple, the jaw and the neck are knockout points, followed by an demonstration of how to throw a punch straight from the shoulder for maximum face-damage potential.

Those dueling approaches to the same problem are very much still at war today within the hearts and minds of the rollergirls of today.  On bout day, you're going into a hostile situation and you know a large group of people will be watching you.  Your mom's contribution to your brain wants to project confidence and self-esteem to the crowd, which manifests itself by dressing to look sexy.  Your dad's contribution to your brain wants to project the image of a warrior to the enemy combatants you are about to face, which manifests it self by dressing to look tough.  The result of this internal struggle?  Well, see for yourself...


In this corner, we have hotpants, false eyelashes, short skirts, cleavage, visible panties, half-shirts and the omnipresent fishnet stockings.  We have team names that contain Dolls, Dames, Wenches, Hotties, Bombshells, Vixens, Angels, Belles, Tarts, Hookers, Beauty Queens, Damsels, Harem, and various other deliciously provocative words.  There are team photos that look like burlesque companies and individual player photos shot with such fantastic Playboy-esque values that sometimes I feel like *content deleted* inside *content really deleted* a gallon of WD-40 *content super-mega-deleted* with a waffle iron.


On the flip side, we have black leather, studded belts, camouflage, bandannas, warpaint, chains, skull tattoos, shaved heads, facial piercings and snarling expressions.  Team names here contain words like Bombers, Warriors, Assassins, Battalion, Regiment, Brawlers, Razors, Bruisers, Ninjas, Hellcats, Pistols, Killers, Renegades and many other words that describe the average Chuck Norris movie.  There are team photos that look like a group you would hire to launch a military coup on a medium-sized South American country and individual player photos that look like they should be a mug shot.

And some that actually ARE a mug shot!

So what does all this mean?  Well, there's no real conclusion here, just a general observation that female derby teams and players tend to choose an image that portrays sexiness, toughness or some sort of synergetic hybrid of the two like fishnet-and-camouflage clad Hooker Commandos.  If you happen to know any women who are attractive enough to draw a crowd of interested suitors and also tough enough to beat up the crowd of suitors and steal their wallets, we may have just the sport for them!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Greatest Poster in the History of Roller Derby

In the average art competition, you have multiple works submitted to a panel of judges who scrutinize the works, evaluating them for beauty, skill, inherent meaning, uniqueness, and fulfilled intent. Then there's this art competition, where one work kicked down the door before the competition was even announced, slaughtered the judges and their families, wrested the trophy from their lifeless hands and hoisted it victoriously to the blaring strains of an Iron Maiden song. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the greatest poster in the history of either roller derby or heavy metal.

I sat down with artist, illustrator, "The Goon" comic book creator and children's book author Eric Powell to discuss his dedication to his craft and his growing love for the sport of roller derby.

Derby Helper: You're an Eisner Award-winning comic book author and illustrator with an impressive resume of past work in the comic industry and an upcoming movie in the works. What is is about roller derby that has captured your attention in such a dramatic fashion?

Eric Powell: *A blinding, fiery shock-wave of awesome belched from his mouth and eye sockets, scorching the hair off my arms and eyebrows and melting the digital voice recorder I was recording with. I ran screaming into the street and threw myself into a snow bank to extinguish my flaming clothing.*

Derby Helper (from the ambulance stretcher): Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today and good luck in your future endeavors!

(For a further searing flash of awesome, visit www.thegoon.com)

Edit:  If you're interested, it has been made available for purchase on Ebay at http://cgi.ebay.com/Eric-Powell-Roller-Derby-Poster-large-24x36-Signed_W0QQitemZ320485916173QQihZ011QQcategoryZ72182QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

Monday, February 1, 2010

Identity Crisis

Today's reader question comes to us from amidst the tranquil beauty of that arboreal paradise we all know and love, Detroit. Wait no, it's from the OTHER arboreal paradise, Vermont.

Dear Derby Helper,

So we play the coolest sport in the world. That I get. But it totally bugs me when friends and coworkers introduce me to people leading with the fact that I play roller derby. This happens to me all the time! Getting introduced as a roller girl in a non-derby situation can be really uncomfortable, particularly in business settings when they learn you're a roller girl before they learn what you do for work. It's gotten my sister cornered in bars. You end up taking 10 minutes out of your day or night to explain to someone you will probably never meet again, "Yes, it is real. No, it's not like in the 70's." Etc., etc.

While I appreciate that people think I play a cool sport and I DO like talking about derby, I can tell people on my own if and when I decide it's appropriate. How does one manage these unwelcome introductions/conversations with grace and style?

Susan Slamberg, Green Mountain Derby Dames

Yes, being awesome is sometimes a heavy burden to bear. (An example of this is the dozens of autographs I have to sign for you adoring blog fans every morning on the walk from my front door to my car.) And to quote Spider-Man's Uncle Ben perfectly with no embellishment whatsoever, "With great derby comes great awesomeness." So one particular burden that many roller derby players have to bear is that their resulting awesomeness causes their real life identity to be eclipsed somewhat. So Susan, let's take a couple of your statements and analyze them to see what kind of possible solutions we can come up with.

You start out with "So we play the coolest sport in the world...but it totally bugs me when friends and coworkers introduce me to people leading with the fact that I play roller derby."  My response is OF COURSE they lead with your derby affiliation!  The ability to strap wheels to the bottoms of your feet and hurl yourself at breakneck speed into a pack of marauding, tattooed ruffians is the closest thing earth has to a real superpower.  Ask yourself this:  Do nerds buy Spider-Man comics to read about an underachieving photographer who can't pay his rent?  No, they buy them to see an athletic, brightly costumed person zipping around kicking peoples arses.  Remind you of anyone?  So one possible solution is to embrace your inner superhero and become comfortable with your derby identity being your the dominant one.

Another statement you made was "Getting introduced as a roller girl in a non-derby situation can be really uncomfortable, particularly in business settings" and I can definitely see why this would be a problem.  If someone learns that you can physically pound them into pulp before they learn that you have 8 years experience in massage therapy, it will be tough for them to ever be able to visualize you fixing people's injuries instead of crushing their skulls into a concrete floor.  Therefore if it is, say, your work friend Jim who keeps introducing you derby-name-first in business situations, it is completely acceptable for you to take the time to explain to Jim in detail why it is important that he stop doing this.

And if he forgets, you might have to explain it to him twice.