The Power Within

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Serena Williams opened up about her experience with childbirth, motherhood and getting back into the sport she loves over this past year. She spoke about her health concerns that arose days after giving birth to her daughter, as well as her struggle with being unheard and ignored as a patient, which is a reality that many Black women also deal with at hospitals. As problems with her blood clots persisted, Serena found it beneficial to wear pants while shes plays to "keep the blood circulation going,” she said after her French Open return.

To help protect her against dangerous blood clots, Nike designed an all-black, compression catsuit that Serena wore when competing in the French Open, saying that her outfit not only made her feel like a warrior, but also had functionality to it. A few months after Serena pulled out of the tournament, French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli announced a new dress code, which essentially banned Serena’s catsuit, saying that players “must respect the game and the place.”

Competing at her next Grand Slam event, the US Open, Serena wore not one, but two tutu outfits in black and lavender from her recent collaboration with Nike and Virgil Abloh’s brand Off-White™. The tutus have become her signature pieces throughout the tournament and a clever response to the catsuit ban imposed at the French Open.

Women are constantly policed for how they present themselves in both working and non-working environments. What they wear seems to matter just as much or even more than how they perform. Tennis great Billie Jean King defended Serena with a tweet, “The policing of women’s bodies must end. The 'respect' that’s needed is for the exceptional talent @serenawilliams brings to the game. Criticizing what she wears at work is where the true disrespect lies.”

Days after the new dress code announcement, Nike backed Serena with a photo of her playing in her catsuit, with a caption saying, “You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.” Nike’s quick response to support their client’s choice of an outfit they made specifically for her solidified the company’s values “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” The ad brought positive reviews from sports fans and the brand’s enthusiasts.

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Serena had no ill feelings towards Giudicelli’s words, saying that she no longer needs the catsuit for support and does not want to be a repeat offender when it comes to fashion. While people continue to try to regulate what woman wear, do and how they act, brands like Nike will, and should, support those who continue to express their individuality and inspire others to push against the envelope.

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Toyin Akinwande