Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Body in Motion: Bleeding Heartland Roller Derby

This series of photographs are dedicated to showing real derby skater bodies without pretense and without apology.  Our focus is on practice time, where the real work happens.  The drills are real.  The sweat is real.  The hits are real.  This set features skaters from Bleeding Heartland Roller Derby.  Additional photos can be found on Cory’s Flickr album.  Get future updates on Facebook by following The Rollergirl Project.




I used to think that stomachs weren't supposed to have any rolls at all, because I never saw rolls on a single damn stomach in the mainstream media. Ridiculous! I mostly follow independent/queer media now, because it's so significant to me to see people with all kinds of bodies who feel comfortable and confident, and are willing to be visible. Images like that have helped to give me a context to see my own body as being a good body, and helped give me context to love it. I think the more images exist of people being happy with our bodies, the better, so hopefully doing these photos and showing that we feel good in our bodies is a step towards paying it forward.

- JackJack Attack, 4 Year Veteran



I already see all of my teammates as strong and fierce, but participating in this project with this group made these individuals all seem even stronger to me. Part of that is probably their bravery in participating in the first place, but also seeing the photos afterward, especially the ones we looked through right after the shoot. Those raw photos captured all of the emotions we have when we play derby--frustration, determination, frustration, unexpected success, and the satisfaction of coordinated teamwork.

- Mauls Dolls, 5 Year Veteran












I wanted to participate in this because I think it's important to show that derby is a space where anyone can be an athlete regardless of whether or not you have what would traditionally be considered an "athletic" body. I want people to see my imperfect body and recognize that I'm an athlete.

- Mad-Eye Maggie, 4 Year Veteran



It is amazing how so many of us do not see our bodies as amazing and beautiful, even when we are doing these moves that might normally make us feel strong when we aren't thinking about the way our bellies or thighs look. I would love for our community to really embrace what our bodies look like underneath, to find those muscles that we work so hard to develop, even if we never get rid of our outer layers.

- Mauls Dolls, 5 Year Veteran













TRGP-6017 Tattoo Detail



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Beneath the Surface

On Septmber 12, 2015, eight skaters of African decent met in Bloomington, IN.  Over the next several hours was a conversation that spanned topics from being a female athlete to being the face of diversity in roller derby.  Here are a few things they had to say. 
Additional photos can be found here.  I would also like to extend a special thank you to Bleeding Heartland Roller Derby for hosting us in their practice space as well as opening their homes.


Deeper than Skin
When I volunteered for "The Roller Girl Project", my focus was to spread a message I've proclaimed from an early age: though my appearance is unique, beneath the surface, I am the same as everyone else. Despite the harsh criticism she received, I agree with Raven-Symone's statements that she is "not black", she's "American", and as a multi-raced individual, born and reared in rural Maryland, this is my sentiment as well. I've dedicated most of my life to defying the racial stereotypes of African-Americans, East Indian Americans, and Latino Americans. "Black people don't listen to rock music." "Black people aren't farmers." "Black people don't play roller derby." Well, I am black, and I do all of these things. My skin tone does not dictate what I can and cannot do. It is an aspect of me, a characteristic, a descriptive term. It is not who I am.
- Petti LaBelle, ClarksVillain Roller Girls





Derby seems to be a manifestation of feminism kicked into high gear. Sports culture, in general, has always demanded that female athletes be competitive while also presenting the perfect picture of femininity. We see this manifest in the uniforms we wear, the adjectives used to describe our game play, and the attention given to physical appearance instead of athletic performance. This current iteration of derby was no different in its early days. However, there has been a marked shift away from booty shorts, fishnets, and tutus to athletic wear more conducive to the full contact sport. The WFTDA’s tag line is: Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary. Derby can be all of those things while simultaneously being just as oppressive as the environment that made it necessary.

Consider those words in the context of a female identified, black athlete. Real deteriorates into a question of biology...”don’t they have an extra leg muscle?” Strong becomes a question of being too masculine; women aren’t supposed to have muscles. Athletic transforms into aggressive, because angry black woman and all. Finally, Revolutionary devolves into boat rocker. “How dare you want to have an all black team…how would you feel if there were an all white team?” (Side note: all white teams exist all across this nation). The black body has long been used to entertain or otherwise educate others throughout history. From enslavement, to human zoos, Sarah Baartman exhibitions, to being used as props at the 2013 VMAs to name a few examples. The struggle for agency over our physical bodies is, as they say, real.

The very definition of femininity should be viewed as personal instead of one-size fits all. These women play derby with their strong bodies tempered by a determination to be the best. This makes the game and they way they play it inherently feminine regardless of how each player defines it. While the derby community on its face is real, strong, athletic, and revolutionary—like first wave feminism—there exists a divide along racial lines…it’s time we talk about it if we want to fully realize/actualize the potential of this sport.

- Brittney "White Flight" Beiberich, Rose City Rollers, Team USA, and Cherry City Derby Girls coach






There are, sad to say, innumerable ways I've been treated sub-optimally because of the color of my skin. I'll limit them to the context of the images I chose to display in this photo-shoot; these examples not only bother me the most, but are a reoccurring theme.

I have been aware of stereotypes about me due to the color of my skin since a young age. As a result, they are   now embedded into my psyche.
In 2015 I still find myself keeping my hands in plain view when I'm shopping so people won't think I'm stealing. I am not a criminal. I have had people working in a store I'm shopping in follow me around too many times to count; the majority of them slyly or blatantly watching me, never asking if I needed assistance.. I am not a criminal. I even had a situation where a manager at a store I worked at tried to set me up for stealing. She, I, and another employee were closing and the manager put the evening’s cash deposit on the counter and walked away. Needless to say, I went in the back as I sensed some shenanigans were about to happen. Then she kept asking me to go up front to do things near where the money was. I made sure I was "busy" doing something else to ensure I had an excuse to stay away from the unattended cash. Then, surprise, the money came up missing even though all 3 of us were locked in the store. I ended up leaving not even a week later as she kept trying to put me on the register. I knew the drawer was going to come up short so I said no mam. Later, I found out the manager had a serious drug problem and ended up getting let go for other  incidents of missing cash/clothing. I am not a criminal.

People frequently diminish my accomplishments. I never bring up my education out of the blue as I'm quite humble, but others trying to diminish my achievements bothers me tremendously. I cannot count the number of times I've been asked what I do for a living, only to have the person assume I am a medical technician when I say I'm in the medical field. Sometimes the assumption is nurse, but rarely do people stop to think I am a doctor. Even when I say, "I'm a physician", half of the replies are, "oh you’re a nurse?” In my mind I think, “did I stutter?” LOL. Sometimes people have the audacity to ask me if I'm a real doctor? What does that mean? That's when I casually drop the fact that I’m Harvard trained. Then, if that wasn't bad enough, I get the "well it must not be that hard to become a doctor". Oh ok because obviously if a dummy like me can do it then anyone can. I am educated.

I think the thing that bothers me most is feeling invisible. It's not all the time, but happens much too often. How many times have I gone in a store/business without being asked if I need help? Yes, I will go  ask someone who works there for assistance. The bite, however, comes after I've been ignored, when the sales person rushes to assist the person behind me. I am equal. Sometimes I turn around and walk out, other times I interrupt and say, "actually I need some assistance." Generally, I leave without making a purchase based on principal, even if there was an item I really wanted. I am equal.

At work I’m invisible a lot of times too. Certain people in other departments that I see regularly look right past as I walk by in the hall. I've been there for more than 4 years, I am  their peer, I am not invisible. I have made an effort to engage some of them, which has had varying degrees of success depending on the person.

Which brings me to why I love derby so much. It's Ok to steal. Steal some points when you’re jamming, especially if you are not lead jammer. It's a highly prized skill, actually lol. No matter what you look like, if you play a smart clean game, It's not diminished especially since it’s a team effort. People have to look at you and acknowledge your presence; the consequences for not seeing could mean getting laid out flat by the "invisible" player lol. All in all, I’ve found an acceptance in derby that many times eludes me in other facets of my life. Hopefully one day the outside world will be more like derby, with respect to being accepting, and non judgmental.

- Dr. G, Fort Wayne Derby Girls


I am able to be competitive without wanting to injure or harm others. I think the concept of black people being violent is an overarching and continuous one. So the point of my photo is that striving to be athletic and excel as a derby player should not be overshadowed by my race. While I am a black skater and I hit hard, it does not make me malicious.

- Death Before Decaf, CoMo Derby Dames



If you were to ask a small sample of black women how often they have been mistaken for the help, most would be able to readily give you a couple examples. These experiences, often built from willful ignorance of American history, destroy all that black women have achieved over the centuries. The plot often including the causal dialogue, “you are so well spoken…[for a black woman]” or “I had to work for everything I have, no one ever gave me anything.” Too often, when we think of black women, the image that comes up is welfare queen, loud, hyper-sexualized, and uneducated. Being black and playing roller derby, likewise, are seen as mutually exclusive. These women shattered that image the moment they stepped onto their respective college campuses and derby tracks. These women worked twice as hard as their counterparts to not only gain entry, but also excel. They understand that failure means reinforcing the concept that black people are lazy and looking for handouts. These women expose the inherent bias present when someone says, “you’re so intelligent and well spoken” by responding with a resounding, “of course, I am. Why wouldn’t I be?” They demolish the ever popular “black folk don’t” when they don their derby gear in an effort to perfect their art form. They are beacons for what is possible in education and sport, where the latter all too often overshadows the former in black communities across this nation.

- Brittney "White Flight" Beiberich, Rose City Rollers, Team USA, and Cherry City Derby Girls coach

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


When control is lost and skates leave the ground, gravity takes over, leaving a skater in a moment which may go on forever.  A split-second later, the body splashes onto the cold concrete followed by a moment of reflection on how bad it hurt even as the adrenaline levels surge, screaming at the skater to get up and get back in the game.  These images are about those moments of flying and landing.

Gravity was created in collaboration with Fynch, a very talented rigger who was introduced to roller derby just a couple months earlier.  Her skill and artistry using rope to pose these skaters captured these moments perfectly.  This set was also made possible by the generous support of aerial artist (and retired skater) Sue Rall.  Thank you both for your support and contributions.

Additional photos can be found at ClayMan Photography on Flickr. 


























































Monday, September 7, 2015

Small Town, Michigan

Hailing from Kalkaska, MI (population 2,035) in the county of the same name (population 17,196), The Small Town Outlaws are home town heroes.  However, their successes and challenges are similar to many leagues.  This entry takes a handful of Outlaws to the still forests and sandy shores of the Grand Traverse Bay that are the hallmarks of  northern Michigan.  Additional Photos can be found in this album.



From Left:  Violet Rage, LilBit-o-Fury, Dee Railya, and Jackie Bauer


Kalkaska is a small town with a very enthusiastic crowd, especially against our cross town rivals, Traverse City. Visiting teams are surprised what a big deal our small town heroes are on the track. I've skated for Indianapolis (Circle City), Traverse City, and even Team Michigan and have never seen anything quite like the fans of the Small Town Outlaws.

- Jackie Bauer


Name Violet Rage
Age 24
Children 1 boy (2) 1 girl (7)
Height 5’ 5”
Weight 165 lbs
Started 2012



Roller derby is an addiction! Ever since my very first practice I was hooked and can't imagine my life without it! I feel the risk of injury and the money I put towards it is all worth it, because I have made life long friends who are more like family and I'm setting an amazing example for my daughter!

- Violet Rage



Name LilBit-o-Fury
Age 35
Children 1 - 19 yrs old
Height 5’ 1”
Weight 155 lbs
Started 2012


I know when I get old I will have amazing stories to tell and they won't be the kind where I just wished I would of done something. In roller derby you learn fast that your not in competition with everyone else. Your competing against yourself and that voice in you head that tells you to quit when it hurts. You learn that even though your head says you can't skate 10 more laps .... You can push through and keep going. I think we all sometimes have to remember that even when things get tough and your head says you can't keep going you can just keep moving and eventually you make it though.

- LilBit-o-Fury




Name Muffin Toppler
Age 34
Children 2
Height 5’ 2”
Weight 145 lbs
Started 4 1/2 years



It's a time for me to be me. Raw, unfiltered, unprofessional me.

- Muffin Toppler




Name Dee Railya
Age 33
Children 1 - 3yrs old
Height 5’ 5”
Weight 210 lbs
Started 2011



Roller derby has helped me to become a better me. I very much lack self confidence. I have always been the Big Girl and up until I strapped on my quads, never embraced the person I am. Roller derby helps to keep me strong inside and out.

- Dee Railya



Name Jackie Bauer
Age 32
Children None
Height 5’ 2 1/2”
Weight 150? lbs
Started May 15, 2010


I've dealt with body image issues for years and at one point took myself down to 109 lbs. I wasn't healthy or happy and it didn't look good on me. Through roller derby, I've learned to appreciate my strength and power and not worry about my appearance. I can go without makeup for weeks quite happily. My teammates oooh and ahhhh over my calves and back muscles which makes me blush, but it feels pretty good.

- Jackie Bauer



I am proud of who I am.
I am proud of who I will become.
I am strong.
I am determined.
I'm an Outlaw.

- Dee Railya









A Note from the Photographer

This set with The Outlaws is both a nostalgic piece as well as a transitional one.  I spent the first 9 years of my life, and several weeks in each following year, in the tiny community of Fairview which lies 65 miles east of Kalkaska.  In Northern Michigan terms, The Outlaws are my hometown team.  On the other side, Body By Derby has ruled my life and my creative outlet for three years.  I made the decision to move on to other things, one of those being just getting out and photographing people. 

On January 6, three days after shooting the Body By Derby sets for Windy City and Gender Non-Conforming individuals, my father was placed in the back of an ambulance.  He died somewhere between his house in Fairview and the nearest hospital almost 40 miles away.  My Father was born on the family farm located a couple miles outside of Fairview in 1938 in a house with a dirt floor.  Except for a brief stint in the army and maybe some short-term residences in his early 20’s, he never lived more then four miles from the family homestead. 

Since January in Northern Michigan can be brutally cold and snowy, my siblings and I opted to return in May to clean out his house.  I have a lot of love and fondness for Northern Michigan and this trip to clean out his house signaled the end of my real connection to the area.  I have aunts, uncles and cousins, but he was my core connection.  I can be a sentimental and somehow, it felt right to symbolically bridge my past and present.  The obvious bridge was to merge derby, photography, and my hometown league.  So, I knew what I had to do on this last trip to my father’s house.

I knew Jackie from her time with Circle City Derby Girls so I reached out to her.  Understandably, the Outlaws would have preferred Body By Derby, but I had already committed to myself to the transition I had to make.  So, we went for a day of shooting.  The results are beautiful and trigger some of my favorite memories of living in Northern Michigan.  I will admit, this set is not distinctly derby, but I think it’s a great homage to the beautiful landscape of the region and to the derby players who call it home.  It’s also tribute to the small town leagues everywhere who bring derby to life in the wildest places.

Cory Layman
Sunday, September 6, 2015