As a woman, I have experienced both positive and negative influences of cultural standards of physical beauty throughout my life. A majority of the negative was experienced in my childhood and teens, during which I had the positive guidance of my mother to help me develop and maintain my self-esteem. It was not until later in life that I became a part of a positive community of female voices who have influenced my confidence in speaking out about negative rhetoric regarding women’s physicality in public. My upbringing in a family with the strong female voice of my mother, as well as my experiences in life as a woman have shaped my influence and experience in the public sphere.
My mother was the main voice that guided me through the experiences of “being different” during my childhood and teens. To be more specific, “being different” in that my physical appearance did not align with societal standards, even when that society was an elementary school classroom. My memory of the first day of school was walking in to a room of kids I have never met with my mom looking on, and having another 5-year-old grab my stomach with both hands and squeeze saying “you’re fat,” setting the tone for my entire grade school social experience. I know now that this little girl probably had very different voices in her life, making the picking apart of a fellow classmate normal to her. My mother would act as a voice of reason and teaching in these situations, explaining the concept of someone being mean or bullying, and the beginnings of developing the beauty standards I learned from my family.
When I was 24 years old I joined the Houston Roller Derby recreational league, Machete Betties, where I became a part of the most positive community of women I have ever experienced in my life. Bullying is the fastest way to get yourself kicked out, and the way you look is not what matters. It’s how effectively you play the sport. Different body types have different benefits to the sport. Being petite, tall, short, heavy set, muscular, having a big booty, all help you have a different edge during gameplay, and this is taught during every practice in one form or another. Within this sport, there is a constant struggle to explain to outsiders that have a vague understanding of roller derby that it is no longer the same sport as it was in the 40’s, 50’s and 80’s. The players strive to be taken seriously as most leagues would like to see it as an Olympic sport in the near future. I’m typically asked if I “wrestle” with other players, or if I elbow anyone in the face. It’s always either hypersexualized or extra violent. It’s frustrating when I see someone’s disappointment when I explain, no, there are specific rules against beating the crap out of each other, it’s a serious sport, and the theatrics of the 1940’s are reserved to a league in Austin, TXRD, where “sexy pillow fights” are penalties. While the skaters for the four teams of TXRD are incredibly athletic and talented skaters, they are not a part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and still play with the theatrics and sexualization the sport is trying to stray way from.
When I first began skating with Houston Roller Derby in 2011, Suzy Hotrod of Gotham Girls Roller Derby in New York City was the first derby girl to be in the ESPN Body Issue. This reinforced my changing view on what was beautiful, and that was to be strong and capable of doing what I loved well. Her appearance in this issue helped to change preconceived notions about the level of athleticism needed to play the sport. Getting to meet her in Austin at a championship game is still one of my fondest memories, and it was exciting to see that I was not the only one lining up for a picture. I attribute the influence of this body positive environment in a sport run by females to my confidence in almost every aspect of my daily life.
I am not impervious to the negative influence of the media and others around me, nor am I innocent of contributing to this negativity. I feel that the more I analyze and educate myself about the experiences of other young girls and women in my community, I can use my voice as necessary to help quell the oppressive and detrimental beauty standards that exist today. I hope to use my level of confidence gained from my experience to guide my son to be a similar voice in the communities he becomes a part of. Perhaps that influence can spread and create a new standard.