Tennis: Superhero In The Ensemble, Serena Williams Gets Catsuit Ban



The Oasis Reporters

August 30, 2018

Serena Williams wonders maturedly over the controversy in her black Wakanda catsuit.
Can’t ebony and ivory play together in tennis harmony ?

What really is the difference between Ebony and Ivory?
Serena Williams just got cold shouldered by the elitist roots in tennis. Her superhero catsuit was banned at the 2018 French open.
Serena Williams has had her hair, body, and clothing picked apart for years.

The complaint is that Serena Williams in a catsuit at the 2018 French Open, drew comparisons to Marvel’s Black Panther movie.

Williams once took out her catsuit for the U.S. Open. The furore it caused was like a puddle. Unlike the reaction of the President of the French Tennis Federation who apparently considered the catsuit disrespectful to the game of tennis, and said so.

In a recent interview in Tennis Magazine, Bernard Giudicelli said that a new dress code for the French Open would be implemented in the future. “I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far,” Giudicelli said. When asked directly about the catsuit he responded, “It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.”

It’s really okay, Williams graciously demurred when asked to comment on the insinuation that a bodysuit designed to help keep her alive was fundamentally disrespectful to the game that she’s devoted her life to, but she needs not be so accommodating.
Giudicelli’s comments frustratingly fall in line with the insulting attitudes that Williams has faced her entire career, and likewise comport with tennis’ historic priding of aesthetics over functionality when it comes to women’s uniforms and the rude policing of women’s bodies in tennis, especially that of curvy black sisters like Serena and Venus.

Yet, guess what, they keep winning. And that’s the most important thing, all that matters anyway.

While the most recognizable all-white tennis uniform is enforced only at Wimbledon, where strict rules dictate just how wide or where a stripe of color is allowed to be placed, those rules have no grounding in functionality. Instead they’re a holdover from Victorian-era values wherein visible sweat was seen as unseemly, especially on women. When Giudicelli and by extension, the French Tennis Federation, single out Williams’ medically necessary suit as uniquely disrespectful, it harkens back to an era when women’s ankles were considered indecorous and black tennis players weren’t even allowed on the same courts as whites. Giudicelli maintains that the coming rules at Roland Garros aren’t going to be anywhere near as strict as Wimbledon’s, being intended to merely “impose certain limits.” But there’s no doubt that those “limits” will bring the participants at the French Open back into line with tennis’ elitist roots.

Serena Williams stunned fans at the 2018 French Open when she stepped onto the court in a catsuit. Black with a red waistband, the full-length bodysuit looked striking on Williams, a new mom; she was likened to a superhero in the ensemble.

But the catsuit won’t be welcome at Roland Garros again. While fans and the media praised the look, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said it won’t be back.

The catsuit ban led to considerable backlash in the days since it was announced. Williams herself weighed in and said she was not upset by the decision.

But Giuidicelli’s comments ignore the history of the game: Tennis has long been a sport where athletes’ fashion choices have been the source of conflict. Male and female players alike have toed the line when it comes to the dress codes imposed on them, and others have boycotted tournaments altogether because of the required attire. Throughout the history of professional tennis, the trends of the times have influenced player dress. This makes Serena Williams’s Wakanda-inspired catsuit no more disrespectful of the sport than what tennis stars have worn on the court for more than a century.

Fans defended the catsuit because health factored into why Williams wore it
The idea that Williams disrespected the sport by wearing the bodysuit outraged fans because the tennis star explained that she wore the ensemble both with her health in mind and to inspire mothers. Williams has a history of blood clots and developed one after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis, in September via a Caesarean – section. She dedicated her Black Panther-inspired catsuit to “all the moms out there that had a tough pregnancy.”

“I’ve had a lot of problems with my blood clots,” she said at the French Open. “God, I don’t know how many I’ve had in the past 12 months. I’ve been wearing pants in general a lot when I play, so I can keep the blood circulation going.”

While the ban on such ensembles is still unofficial, Giudicelli’s remark led to backlash. When asked about the catsuit ban, Williams, however, downplayed his remarks.

“I think that obviously the Grand Slams have a right to do what they want to do,” she said.

But for some members of the public, the matter didn’t seem so simple. The suggestion that Serena Williams doesn’t respect the game came across as a microaggression. One of the rare black women to dominate tennis, Williams has faced criticism throughout her career for not looking like the women who’ve traditionally played the sport. Her hair, body, and fashion choices have routinely been scrutinized, often with an undercurrent of race, sex, and class bias.

The Victorian era gave us tennis whites
One reason Giudicelli’s decision to ban Williams’s catsuit has raised eyebrows is because, unlike Wimbledon and its all-white dress code, the French Open has traditionally been a tournament where players can express themselves through fashion. In fact, in 1990 when tournament organizers considered the all-white route, Andre Agassi, known for his colorful ensembles, took offense.

“Somebody doesn’t like me,” he said. “The idea is to make tennis enjoyable for people. Why don’t they take a survey? Instead of asking some old guy behind a desk.”

Andre Agassi in 1991 boycotted Wimbledon because of its all-white dress code. Hardt/Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

The Williamses without a doubt, have faced racism, bigotry, slurs, insults, outright hate, sexism, rudeness, derogatory speeches, etc, but if they are not on the court, then the best are not there.

Serena Williams’s catsuit may have caused a sensation at the 2018 French Open, but it wasn’t the first time Williams had worn a catsuit during competition, according to our several tennis aficionados.

She also wasn’t the first woman tennis player to wear a full-length bodysuit during a Grand Slam contest. During the first round of the 1985 Wimbledon tournament, tennis star Anne White heeded organizers’ all-white rule but defied tradition by wearing a white catsuit instead of a tennis skirt. White’s opponent, Pam Shriver, insulted White’s spandex suit, calling it the “most bizarre, stupid-looking thing I’ve ever seen on a tennis court.” Wimbledon officials apparently agreed and told White not to wear it again to the tournament.

Tennis player Anne White in a catsuit at Wimbledon in 1985. Getty Images

But off the court, the 5-foot-11 White won praise for her unconventional fashion choice. Pony, the sportswear company that provided the ensemble, promoted it as the “Perfect 10 White,” and commentators noted that while the average woman could not get away with wearing the bodysuit, White’s long and lean body made her the exception.

As one tennis retailer put it, “It’s attractive, but you have to be built like Anne White is built to wear it. And the rest of the world is not.”

Seventeen years later, when Serena Williams wore a short catsuit to the 2002 US Open, she received a significantly different response. Unlike White, she wasn’t praised as an enviable example of femininity in the suit but instead was slut-shamed, body-shamed, and generally demeaned.

The outfit was described in the press as “clinging,” “ultra-risqué,” “curve-clutching,” and leaving “little to the imagination,” according to Jaime Schultz’s 2005 essay “Reading the Catsuit,” which appeared in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues. Other media outlets pointed out Williams’s “bulging muscles” and “defensive-back physique.” And Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan described her as “a working girl of a different sort,” calling the catsuit “trashy.”

Serena Williams was in a short catsuit at the 2002 US Open.
Why did the response to Williams in a catsuit differ markedly from White in one? The former’s race and body type certainly played a role in the remarks, as did class — hence the idea that the Compton-raised Williams dressed in a “trashy” way. Throughout her career, Williams has been subjected to various micro-aggressions — from spectators, other athletes, and members of the press.

Serena and Venus Williams have been dogged by bias throughout their career
For 14 years, Serena Williams boycotted the Indian Wells tournament. Her decision to skip the event stemmed from her experience there in 2001. At that time, not only were she and her sister Venus Williams booed by spectators, they were also subjected to n-word taunts, her father and then-coach, Richard Williams, told USA Today. One man even remarked, “I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive,” he said. Williams ended her boycott of the tournament in 2015, but Indian Wells is hardly the only event where she’s faced bigotry.

The Williams sisters have repeatedly been compared to animals, characterized as “savage,” or as “pummeling,” “overwhelming,” and “overpowering” their white rivals, Vox pointed out last year. Sometimes, fellow athletes have joined in on such attacks of Serena and Venus. Anna Kournikova reportedly said of the Williamses, “I hate my muscles. I’m not Venus Williams. I’m not Serena Williams. I’m feminine. I don’t want to look like they do. I’m not masculine like they are.” In addition, Chris Evert said that the Williams sisters’ “athletic ability and raw aggression make it hard for the women who aren’t Amazons to compete with them.”

But Caroline Wozniacki stands out as the most egregious offender. During a 2012 exhibition match, the tennis star padded her breasts and bottom in ridicule of Williams’s physique. As she has with Giudicelli’s criticism of her catsuit, Williams downplayed Wozniacki’s mockery, saying, “I don’t think she meant anything racist by it.” She and Wozniacki were reportedly friends.

Although their bodies have drawn unwelcome attention in adulthood, Serena and her sister were often mocked because of their hair as teens. For styling their hair in beaded braids, once a popular style for African-American girls, the sisters were subjected to cruel jokes and criticism about their look. A tennis official penalized Venus Williams when some of her beads slipped out during competition, saying they had caused a disruption.

Having her appearance dissected, ridiculed, and criticized has not been easy, Serena Williams has admitted. She said she even felt insecure because her older sister, also subjected to vicious attacks on her appearance, is leaner.

Given the intense and racialized scrutiny of her appearance throughout her career, Williams’s measured response to criticism of her catsuit is not surprising. She’s experienced this kind of shaming since adolescence, and women tennis players have had their appearances picked apart since the start of the game.

Williams is certainly not the only tennis player who’s refused to play it safe sartorially, but the persistent criticism she’s faced arguably recalls the game’s elitist roots more than any other athlete.

The good news is that Serena would often have the perfect response each time. And it’s always measured and matured. It teaches the tennis world respect and dignity.

Source: Vox Media
In-house reporting


Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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