Remember when Serena Williams stepped out in this stunning catsuit at the French Open earlier this year?
Fans praised the Williams sister for her bold elegance, and confidence, as she set foot on the court. The tennis legend and new mom now had a the attire to match both of these superhero-like titles. Not only was the catsuit the perfect fit for Serena herself, but the athlete also dedicated the suit to all moms who’d faced difficult pregnancies, following her own C-section in September of last year.
Serena spoke of her tendency to develop blood clots, especially following her pregnancy, and noted that wearing pants on the court make these life-threatening clots less likely to occur.
“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.”
So here we have a black woman. Wife. Mother. Legendary tennis player. A fighter back on the court after battling serious health problems. And what happens next? A special tennis edition of a BBQ Becky-like incident. Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation said in an article from Tennis magazine published Friday, that Serena’s Nike suit would be no more, effectively banning it from future French Open tournaments. Giudicelli even seemed to suggest that Serena had “gone too far,” saying “you have to respect the game and place.”
But this isn’t Serena’s first run-in with the tennis police. Back in 2002, Serena wore a similar catsuit, made with shorts rather than tights, and the tennis world’s response was disrespectful at best and downright offensive and demeaning at worst.
Rather than highlighting tennis player’s talent, or perhaps praising her for her fit figure and confidence, the media instead focused more on spewing sexual innuendos at Williams, one critic calling the suit “risque” stating that her attire left “little to the imagination.” Others described her body with terms such as “bulging.”
In the past, the Williams sisters have been referred to as “masculine,” “savages,” and “aggressive,” all echoes of the racial comparisons of Black people to monkeys and animals, that riddle American history. The black woman’s body is so easily regarded as being unfeminine, and if not that, then her features are somehow pushed to the opposite end of the spectrum and she is quickly oversexualized.
As a response to the persistence of this ugly pattern, Black people must be even more intentional when it comes to fostering a healthy sense of self love in the next generation. We must create our standards rather than wait around for other races to welcome black beauty with open arms. Unfortunately, just as this was not Serena’s first time taking heat for her body and her choice in clothing, it certainly will not be the last for her, or any other Black woman violently fighting the same battle across the globe. But as Nike said in response to the controversy, “You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.” In other words, even though tennis officials like Giudicelli might never cut her a break, in the meantime, Serena will keep kicking tennis-player butt.