Heroes and villains

February 20, 2012
Southern Delaware Roller Girls Vice President JoAnimal intimidates her adversaries. BY JOANNE PONIATOWSKI

“You’re just jealous because I’m a genuine freak, and you have to wear a mask.” – The Penguin

“You might be right.” – Batman


Derby girl garb is viewed differently by those who play and those who watch.  Most derby girls would say they wear fishnets and short shorts to prevent rink rash or promote maneuverability.  Most audience members would say the outfits are about enhancing the theatrics of the sport.  And both would be a little bit true.

For those of you who don’t know, rink rash is a nasty patch of red, rough skin created when exposed skin hits a hardwood floor at a high speed.  Tights, leggings, fishnets, thigh-highs and knee socks all form a barrier between the skin and the floor to prevent rink rash.

Then there are shorts, or hot pants, or maybe a pair of underwear that covers just enough not to be considered obscene.  In roller derby, players have to use their legs constantly, and it would be easy for longer, looser pants to get in the way during high-speed crossovers or when juking around other players.

But let’s be honest, skin protection and maneuverability could be accomplished through more modest means.  I think a derby ensemble is an extension of the character, and it’s meant to intimidate.

Like derby names, derby outfits are a way to shed your normal, everyday persona and trade it for that of a superhero (or super villain).  And most superheroes don’t slum around in sweatpants and old, baggy T-shirts.  Superheroes have fierce personas; they wear cat suits and makeup; they intimidate their enemies.

When I see a 200-pound girl coming at me with black lipstick, ripped stockings and daggers in her eyes, I am much more likely to cower than if the same girl came at me wearing heather grey sweatpants and a faded Jump Rope for Heart T-shirt from 1995.

Plus, it seems a sad-but-true fact that people are more likely to pay to see female athletes when they are wearing less clothing.  Women’s tennis, where players are dressed in tight tank tops and short skirts, is wildly popular compared to women’s basketball, where players are dressed much the same as their male counterparts.

I am not saying a woman has to objectify herself to garner attention as an athlete.  And I’m sure there are plenty of derby girls out there who strike fear into the hearts of their opponents in sweatpants.  But a big part of roller derby is the confidence it brings out in its players.  Some of the girls on SDRG are seasoned athletes, but others, myself included, had never been inclined toward competitive sports until roller derby came along.

A year ago, I would have been mortified to put on a pair of fishnets with zebra-print booty shorts and roller skate in front of a crowd of people.  But after 10 months of squats and skating, I think I’ve developed leg muscles comparable to a racehorse.  The idea of getting on the track in fishnets no longer scares me.

…But hopefully it scares my opponents.