My self esteem and confidence hasn’t always been there. I grew up constantly conscious of my body and how others perceived me.
I remember in elementary school, I had been a runner with our recreation track and field team. At age 11, I was in amazing shape with a larger body structure, but I was also maturing. It was there; in sixth grade; that I began my period and – BAM – suddenly I had breasts to control. At this point I was a competitive sprinter and shot put throw. And, though I had “double bagged” by breasts in two sports bras, I remember running a quarter mile sprint, my teammates on the side lines cheering loudly. I felt on top of the world. Appreciated. Strong. Athletic. As I drew nearer, the cheers became clearer and I could hear what they were yelling. It was if a unified voice was shouting, in unison, a word that would become my new nickname. Maracas.
To give you some background, I spent from birth to age 8 telling my mom I was supposed to be a boy and that God had made a mistake. I had argued with him up until the point of birth – His response: “tough cookies, little lady.” Needless to say, the appearance of breasts shocked and depressed me. The fact that they grew to D-cups in sixth grade alone exacerbated the experience.
Hearing that nickname, Maracas, I hit a brick wall. My confidence levels plunged and I begged my parents to let me stop running. They obliged, but I could tell they didn’t quite understand why, and I couldn’t tell them. I was too embarrassed. The truth was, I was now even more self-conscious of my breasts and the names they garnered me. Looking back, I realize that we were only children, but that immense sadness and pain was very real. It was at that point in my life that I began to gain weight to cover my large breasts. In fifth grade, I had sit 120 pounds and by sixth grade weigh in, I was 160.
That weight gain wasn’t entirely my breasts or depression eating, though looking back at my 12-year old self, I can see that emotional eating was absolutely a part of it.
I had also convinced my mother to let me drop out of dance class a few years prior (which I took with my sister) to take up Tae Kwon Do. I started this in fifth grade and was surprisingly good. The more I practiced, the more muscles formed. Tae Kwon Do gave me an outlet to wear a uniform that wasn’t snug or form fitting, that would let me be aggressive, yet disciplined. I had found a home for myself athletically. Further, I advanced quickly and felt at home with a group of children and adults that never comment on the size of my breasts or the fact that I was overweight. They cheered me on when I passed a test or hit a new goal. I made it to my black belt before I had to stop – my family was moving again, for the sixth time in my life. This time we would be leaving the Pittsburgh suburbs for the big city of Philadelphia.
After moving, I created a new persona – an artsy bookworm with a snarky edge. I threw myself into theater management, music, and academia. Sports were an afterthought. I became this new person that hit the pain of losing something I truly loved – physical activity, competition and a team mentality. Hiding became second nature to me, be it behind a book, back stage, or in the closet. I wonder how much of this instinct to hide myself bled into other parts of who I am – my sexuality, my emotions, my ambitions. This one small event may have been the pivot point that altered the course I traveled. I took the fork in the road that led to holing myself down.
It really wasn’t until now – 18 years later – that I embarked on my new sport adventures… full of dodgeball, 10Ks throughout the Bay Area and roller derby.
Now skating with an amazing group of roller derby girls (Reckless Rollers with the B. A.D. Girls, aka, Bay Area Derby Girls), I have a new tribe, much like I had in Tae Kwon Do – though with a new uniform of leggings, body-hugging clothes, and sexy safety gear. Since skating, I have embraced a new nickname that I am proud to hear my teammates call me – one that embraces my size, my strength and my stability: Humm Vee.
When I hear my derby teammates chant, I now smile and hold my head up with pride.
Photo: Coming soon – I’m waiting for my delightful mom to find my photos from sixth grade and scan them to me. Once I get them, they will be up for all to enjoy. Don’t you fret. You’ll get a good giggle soon.