How Roller Skating Affects Mental Health—A Psychologist Investigates

roller skating

@neonkeon

The stress of Covid-19 and its consequential lockdown has brought on record-hitting depression and anxiety rates in the US, resurfacing a common mantra made by psychotherapists and medical doctors alike: exercise helps mental health. While it’s true that exercise provides a measurable positive impact on mood, prescriptively instructing people to workout might be more loaded than well-intended professionals may mean. Body image is a major issue for many people, and fitness-pressure can trigger old traumas related to dysmorphia or negative self-talk. 

Plus, developing new habits can be hard. If we struggle to identify a workout that feels good—let alone integrate it into a daily routine—that strain can negatively impact self-esteem (especially on top of combating the negative cognitive biases that often come with depression). We might begin to associate efforts at exercise with personal failure.

In my own work as a therapist, I feel strongly that physical activity is vital to well-being, but I’m also aware that advising it can induce shame and stigma. This is why I’ve been overjoyed to observe so many recent activity trends on social media that prove we can celebrate our bodies' capabilities in positive ways. I’ve especially observed creativity, body-positivity, and community among the “roller skating” domain of Instagram, so I decided to find out more. 

Talking to these five mobile mavens uncovered some common themes: social media was the source of initial inspiration, fear of falling is normal, and the social support within the skating community can provide an additional source of emotional wellness. Many of the skaters feel that the act of skating is its own metaphor for inner calm and resilience. Hopefully, whether it’s skating or another endeavor, these stories confirm the regenerative potential in finding a practice that gets you moving purely for the pleasure of it. 

Meet the Expert

  • Michele Koury, LMHC, is a Columbia University-educated psychotherapist.

Priscila Trinidad (@priscilatnd) 

This Mexico City-based roller-skater (and hula hooper) recently shot to Instagram notoriety due to her trendsetting take on Saweetie and Doja Cat’s viral hit “Best Friend,” using a filter by Varun Raikar. Her fusion of fun filters, song selections, and dance reminds us that passion can progress into a full-on creative project. 


What is your roller skating 'story'?

My introduction to roller skating was unexpected. I was at my job listening to some music when a Youtube video recommendation about roller skating appeared. I clicked, and since that very moment, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do with my life! 

In the beginning, I was afraid to get hurt; when I bought my first safety gear, it changed me completely. I laced up every single day, all day long, with the mentality of just making skating a space to forget the outside noise in my life. Superhuman, genuine, off-limits, and magical is how I'd describe my creative expression as a skater because that's how skating makes me feel. 

 Did you encounter any interesting discoveries or surprising moments as you delved deeper into skating? 

Definitely. Roller skating has evolved so beautifully because of the roller-skate culture by black people in the United States. I feel constantly inspired by the Venice Beach skaters who fought against racism and oppression to have a place to skate and express themselves.

 Any tips for readers interested in trying roller skating for the first time? 

Get some good protective gear. Don't pay attention to your age, external conditions, or skills. Anytime is a good time to discover the magic through your wheels. I feel like the only thing I’ve ever owned is my mindset—and roller skating has given me almost all the foundations on which my mindset is built.

 

Marician Dedeaux Brown (@oh.thatsreese) 

Marician Brown grew up near a roller rink in Bay St. Louis, so she skated from time to time throughout childhood. But like many of the skaters featured here, she was inspired by social media to delve deeper into the practice. She also makes an important point about the health impact of picking up any new hobby during the pandemic: 

The pandemic introduced new ways of getting outside or picking up a new hobby in every aspect. I don’t think skating was the only thing that “got popular” during the pandemic. When I would go in stores, everything with wheels was gone because people were trying to find ways to stay active and socially distance. 

What is your roller skating 'story'?

I was doing my normal scroll through TikTok and saw amazing skaters and wanted to do the things they were doing. I did my research on skates and wheels to make sure I wasn’t wasting money. After that came consistent practice, and the rest is history.

Have you had your own body-positivity or mental wellness journey? 

Growing up, I struggled with my weight in my elementary days, and then my middle school life was dealing with an eating disorder. Once I started sports in 8th grade, I was creating healthier habits, but I wasn’t all the way there yet. My weight fluctuates depending on what I’m doing, whether it’s because of my diet or exercise, but skating has definitely built muscles that I was not building when I was doing powerlifting. 


Did you encounter any interesting discoveries or surprising moments as you delved deeper into skating?

I love how many friends you can make in this community. 


Any tips for readers interested in trying roller skating for the first time? 

If you’re interested, do it. Don’t hesitate, just skate!

Frances McGee (@Abominatrix) 

The Abominatrix tutorials on YouTube were among the first I encountered upon trying out skating myself. The warmth and clarity of Frances McGee's teaching style really stood out, which is why, in our own conversation about it, I was thrilled—and not totally surprised—to discover her philosophical approach to the practice. McGee’s thoughts on skating inherently include two key tenets of mental health: attention to breathing and tackling negative self-talk. 

What is your roller skating 'story'?

I believe most people come to skating seeking an unnamed energy that always leads back to self. When I came to skating, I was at a rough juncture in my life. I was at a crossroads with my health, my wellbeing, and my body. Facing the raw vulnerability of epilepsy and the mind-trip that comes with living with it, I had a real need to find trust in a body that seemed to be failing me. Plus, my not-so-great relationship and not-so-great job were taxing my mindset, as well. What I wanted out of life and what my life was, at the time, seemed so far out of alignment.

How would you describe your creative expression as a skater? 

My style is a physical manifestation of my essence. Skating is athletic, yet it’s more than simply just mental or physical. Albert Einstein once said, “Dancers are the athletes of God.” 

Have you had your own body-positivity or mental wellness journey?

Skating has helped me process my own negative self-talk. I’ve learned that perfection is an illusion, and it is okay to be down and exhausted. I have also connected to the concept of diaphragmatic breathing. 

Also, there is nothing like recovering from an injury with intention. I keenly sense the kinetic relation of patterns when I skate. The curiosity and creative challenge of adaptation in injury rehabilitation inspired me to become a massage therapist. Challenging your physical kinetic chain and training your awareness to get back up, adapt, and try again and again and again, teaches you perspectives towards yourself and your life. 

 Keon Saghari (@neonkeon) 

A member of the Venice Beach roller skating community, Keon Saghari synthesizes her professional dance background (and its complicated influence on her mental health) with her newfound, healing passion for roller skating, telling a story of new beginnings and resiliency. 

Have you had your own body-positivity or mental wellness journey? 

 I have struggled with body dysmorphia and unhealthy eating habits from a young age. As a ballet dancer, it was engraved in my mind to have my body look a certain way.

When I started skating, it was an escape from the mental and physical pain and suffering I was experiencing from my dance career. Skating was something new and, in the start, I wasn’t very good—which was a fun challenge for me! When my skills began to improve, I was able to introduce aspects of my dance experience onto my skates. 

Skating began to change the way I thought of myself because of all of the different types of people I would see skating at the rink and out at Venice Beach. There wasn’t just one body type, like there generally was with dance.

Does the practice and consistency required play any part in the positivity of the passion?

The beautiful thing about skating is that I actually enjoy practicing. I had zero expectations when I started skating—no intentions of turning it into a career, I simply did it for joy. Now, opportunities are coming my way because I’m not putting that same pressure on myself. 

Any tips for readers interested in trying roller skating for the first time? 

Don’t give up! Skating is frustrating as hell in the beginning, especially if you struggle with stability and balance. I promise over time it will feel more and more comfortable. Trust your body and know that muscle memory is a real thing. You will feel more stable each time you’re on your skates. 

Also, know that falling is a huge part of skating. You will fall, so have your protective gear if you need help getting over that mental block. My fear of falling went away as soon as I accepted it would happen. Get rid of any expectations you have and don’t compare yourself to other skaters. Just focus on bending your knees and finding a bounce to the beat of the music. 

Courtney Shove (@fat_girl_has_moxi)

Courtney Shove is a body-positivity activist whose development of a roller skating practice had a direct impact on their emotional healing. She was planning to travel to Australia to coach at Rollerfit before the pandemic hit. When life safely re-opens, she plans to tour the Suns Out Buns Out Roll Out event across the country. 

 What is your roller skating 'story'?

I began to skate at the age of 30. I was in an abusive (unbeknownst to me at the time) relationship and had about one friend. I hadn't lost my strength but I definitely forgot about it. My friend told me about a local roller derby league, and it was the first time I stood up for myself in a long time and said, "I'm doing this whether you like it or not." It was the first step to me finding myself again. Pushing myself to learn something new—falling and finding the strength to get back up just to fall again—began to spill into other aspects of my life.  

Have you had your own body-positivity or mental wellness journey?

My journey was long and hard. I used to binge and then purge, or simply not eat at all when I was in high school. I always thought my weight defined me; that I wasn't worthy of love until I had the "ideal body.” Whatever that is. I used to be a total Tumblr girl and that's when I discovered Tess Holliday. She was Tess Munster back then and didn't have as huge of a following, but I became obsessed with every post of her. Her beauty was unmatched. She wore things that showed her belly and every lump and roll with a huge smile. I wanted to feel the power she portrayed. I began to wear things out of my comfort zone and eventually met Tess a few times in person; to this day, I'm not sure if she knows this, but I don't know if I would be where I am body positivity-wise if it wasn't for her image popping up on my feed. Now I am my own version of Tess to fat skaters around the world. I get to pay it forward through every post.

Did you encounter any interesting discoveries or surprising moments as you delved deeper into skating? 

It's surprising to find out that the heavy hitters in skating—the ones that can do the coolest tricks and have the largest followings—have the same insecurities. They still struggle with certain tricks, strive to learn new ones, and geek out over other skaters in the park. It's also crazy to me how tight-knit the community is. We all have another's back. I feel like I could travel the world and always have a place to stay because of a roller skater I've met online or in person. 

Any tips for readers interested in trying roller skating for the first time? 

It's not a matter of if you fall but when you'll fall. Roller skating is hard. There are some people that get it in a week, but for many, it takes months or a year to really get it. Never compare yourself to others, ask questions, and don't forget to have fun!

I am excited that skating has blown up. I'm excited that more people get to feel this joy. I just hope that they know there's more to this community than just posting online. I can't wait to see them at rollouts and skate park meetups. I can't wait for them to see what the power of this community is really like.

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