Serena Williams’s catsuit may have caused undue uproar but for her, there was more to it.
Even if you know embarrassingly little about major sports like me, Serena Williams has probably been on your radar for over a decade. Champion, designer, model, and new mom; Serena Williams is the ultimate inspiration. She first came to national attention when she and her older sister, the equally phenomenal Venus Williams, burst onto the professional tennis scene. The wide-eyed, brace-faced girls became sensations and brought impeccable skill and ferocity to the sport even though they were still in their formative teenage years. Since then, Serena has maintained an ever-present role in the professional sports industry, signed endorsement deals with Nike and Gatorade, and won four Olympic gold medals on behalf on the United States. There seems to be no end in sight for this record-smashing shero.
Serena Williams is one of a select group of athletes who plays a prominent role in professional sports and popular culture. With over 9 million followers on Instagram, me included, it is obvious that people are just as interested in her life off the court. The past few weeks have been a particularly media-crazed time for Ms. Williams due to a surge of controversy surrounding her outfits. Earlier this summer, during the French Open, Serena Williams broke the Internet by donning a sleek, black, skin-tight Nike catsuit to the competition.
The Black Panther-inspired suit made waves on social media with many hailing the suit as fierce, unique, and the perfect outfit for a superwoman like Serena. Unfortunately, the French Tennis Federation did not feel the same way. Under claims that the suit was an example of Serena going “too far,” Federation president Bernard Giudicelli proposed a ban, stating that the suit would “no longer be accepted.” Even though Serena Williams came out and publicly defended Giudicelli in an attempt to assuage angered fans, many of her supporters were quick to call out the problematic nature of his comments.
As superfluous as this catsuit controversy may seem, it did bring attention to a much larger issue, the criticism and attempted control over women’s bodies in sports. Tennis, in particular, has a long-winded history of scrutinizing female competitors’ outfits, skirt lengths, shoe decorations, shorts, and undergarments all in the name of keeping the sport “respectable.” For female players, this respectability often comes by way of modesty, and I applaud athletes like Serena who are challenging these old-fashioned standards one outfit at a time.
For her next major competition, the U.S. Open, Serena stepped onto the Flushings-Meadow court in an all-black Off-White x Nike tutu, custom-designed by Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh.
According to Williams, she quickly fell in love with the piece because it made her feel “strong and feminine” at the same time. She hoped the mixture of the tulle skirt and tight bodice would send a message to viewers that the two traits are not mutually exclusive. As if this one-shouldered piece was not enough to slay my existence, Serena also sported a pair of black fishnet compression stockings. But, in addition to being a cool, edgy accessory, the stockings served another purpose, protection.
Since the birth of her first daughter, Olympia, Ms. Williams has been very transparent about her health complications, including increased susceptibility to blood clots. The Nike catsuit, in all of its superhero glory, was initially designed to circulate blood flow, thereby minimizing the damage these clots could cause on the body when one plays as hard as Serena Williams does. The compression leggings underneath the tutu were meant to mirror this same effect. Throughout the tournament, she has alternated between this black tutu and a similar periwinkle version, all the while racking up win after win. Seeing an athlete of Serena’s strength and stature, dominate the court, celebrate her femininity, and prioritize her physical health is a beautiful sight to see. Regardless of the rest of the tournament’s results, Serena and her array of outfits will have already won the game.