My name is Imani Rickerby, I was a competitive synchronized ice skater for 13 years, and I hated Actionphotos.com. I sound crazy, right? Action photos to a synchro competition are like peanut butter on a PB&J. All skaters anxiously anticipate finding their live-action photos after a good skate. Not me. It sounds harmless but this was probably one of the hardest things I did at every competition. Official practice? A breeze. Competing? I thought it was exhilarating. Looking through my photos on Actionphoto.com? A blow to the stomach. My action photos at every competition symbolized a reminder to the judges, technical panel, audience, and even my teammates something I tried desperately to hide: A black girl trying to masquerade inside somebody else’s body. All of my photos consisted of a brown face on top of a dress with pale mesh, wearing tights for a fairer complexion, and make-up seven shades too light for herself. A screaming reminder that I do not belong in this sport.
My life as a black synchro skater consisted of a series of microaggressions that made me feel like the sport I loved dearly wasn’t meant for women of color like me. For the first 10 years of my skating career, I was always the sole black skater on my team. Before seeing the sketches of our competition dresses every season, I would say a little prayer hoping that there was as little “nude” mesh as possible because the less mesh, the more the dress could fit me too. I dreaded the “hair and make-up” slot on our team schedule before every competition because it was an hour of me trying to fit a beauty standard that was unattainable. I would struggle to put my coily hair in a slick bun with gel that was not meant for my hair texture. In the 13 years competed, I have never been on a team whose competition makeup complimented my skintone. Eyeshadow and lipstick selections for the season were always too light or garish for my complexion. I have never seen a judge, technical specialist, or even competition volunteer that looked like me. These were all jarring reminders of my position as an outcast. The worst part was my isolation continued outside of the rink. I frequently heard “black people don’t skate,” or had classmates laugh at my synchro team photos while exclaiming how easy it is to find me because I was “a brown dot in a sea of white.” I internalized this backlash which pushed me to prove why I belonged on the ice.
So why did I stay? At first, it was because I loved what I did. The power you feel while being on the ice is unmatched. I love how this sport flawlessly combines athleticism, artistic expression, and teamwork. Learning creative programs with challenging footwork and moves alongside your teammates, who were also your best friends, was everything to me. I skated with some of my old teammates for over 8 seasons and we are still close to this day!
However, by my 9th season, I realized that I needed to stay. I felt a renewed purpose to skate because every time I stepped on the ice, whether it be at practice or at a national competition, I was a tangible representation of the change happening within synchro and figure skating as a whole. Yes, I stuck out like a sore thumb next to my teammates. However, I embraced it. I skated my heart out. I finally knew I belonged on the ice and I wanted to show other skaters of color that they belonged too.
While the representation of diverse performers is good, I wanted to take it a step further. Not only should there be efforts for diversity but inclusion as well. As a coach of five years, it is amazing that I can now walk into a rink and see multiple races and ethnicities represented on the ice. However, it is not enough for skaters of color to see other performers who look like themselves. They need skating apparel in their skin color too. That is why my co-founders and I created Aurora Tights. Aurora Tights is an athletic brand that creates performance apparel for all skin shades and sizes, from the fairest to the deepest shades. We currently sell ice skating and dance tights in 5 shades that embrace the entire spectrum of skin tones. We also are pushing for more body positivity by creating our tights true to size. No more wearing a size XL tight even though you are only a women’s size 6! We are also excited to announce that we are launching our children’s line in early August for children 18 months to 12 years old. By giving performers the option to wear tights in their unique skin color, we’re sending the message “You DO belong in this sport.”
All in all, I have had a dynamic journey through skating. Yes, I still cringe whenever I get on Facebook and look at past competition photos. Yes, Actionphotos.com will always be somewhat tainted in my heart. And yes, our sport still has some heavy lifting to do. We need to actively embrace individual differences while still performing in-sync, increase minority representation in judges and technical panelists, and expand this sport’s current standard of beauty. Nonetheless, I am excited about the direction that our sport is headed. I hope in the near future, no girl or boy will ever hate Actionphotos.com again.
Written By: Imani J. Rickerby for Get It Called