I enjoy tennis but admittedly don’t watch it much, except for usually the men’s finals – primarily for the scenery, of course – but every once in a while a story pops up in the sports media related to tennis that catches my eye. Today was one of those days as I read a story about what tennis mega-star Venus Williams wore this past weekend at the French Open:
Good morning. And let’s begin the day with a famous French saying: “Ooh-la-la.”
Those were the words on many lips on Day 1 of the French Open as Venus Williams played in an outfit that was straight out of Moulin Rouge.
The corset-style dress that revealed thong underwear was black and lacy with red trim and had some see-through effects working. And to be fair, it wouldn’t have drawn any notice at all . . . if it had been worn by a can-can dancer.
What it actually “revealed” were flesh colored boy shorts that were made to look like a thong. You can view photos of her outfit here. In some it looks like she’s mooning the crowd.
Oh, but wait – Venus was just “being Venus” by “doing her own thing,” right? No statement intended? Wrong:
Venus Williams attracted even more attention than usual at the French Open on Sunday, and it wasn’t for her athleticism in a first-round victory over Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder. The stadium was instead abuzz over Williams’ racy outfit – a short, black lace dress with flesh-colored underwear built in.
When asked about her lingerie-like outfit from her own ‘EleVen’ clothing line, Williams said the look was ‘about illusion,’ but added that she might not wear that particular piece again. “That has been a lot of my motif this year, illusion, and it’s about kind of having that illusion of wearing lace and not having anything take away under it. These days I have a lot of fun with my designs,” Williams told the Associated Press.
Right. An “illusion” was definitely created, but I don’t think it’s the one she intended. Bottom line (pun intended): This gal definitely knows what she’s doing. It’s all about attention and how much of it she can get, no matter how much decorum she has spurned and no matter the image she is presenting to young women who watch and may look up to her. It’s all about “me, Me, ME.”
Now, to be fair, this isn’t the first time she’s worn flesh-colored boy shorts on the tennis court. She did the same thing back in January, and caused a similar stir. Naturally, some sports critics took issue with what she wore then – and now. But other writers, like the WSJ’s fashion writer (?) Elva Ramirez, for example, have a basic message to anyone who dares to second guess Venus’ choice of on-the-court attire: Go “F” yourselves:
Now Williams knows what’s she doing by wearing nude shorts and flirty dresses. A player of her caliber, experience and media exposure knows the type of photos that will be taken of her. If she was bothered by the tongue-wagging she would have stopped after the first dress and nude shorts pairing. Which is not to say that all this lasciviousness is Williams’s fault, but rather, like any woman who puts on very high heels or a sexy top, she likely feels the attention is a small price to pay for wearing what she wants, when she wants.
Got it? It’s all about YOU, girl. You must REBEL! If you’re a self-made woman … scratch that, if you’re a woman, you can damn well wear whatever you want because, well, because you can. For that job interview? I recommend a hot pink tube top and a leather mini with thigh high black boots. For picking up Susie from daycare, I recommend a thong bikini and strappy high-heeled sandals. For that business meeting, I recommend skin tight black trousers and a teasing half shirt (don’t forget the push-up bra and navel ring – and don’t worry about covering up that tattoo). For meeting your boyfriend’s parents, you should go with the form fitting red cashmere outfit with the plunging neckline, along with some stilettos (go BIG on the jewelry!). YOU ARE A LIBERATED WOMAN. BE UNINHIBITED! DON’T YOU DARE LET OTHERS JUDGE YOU!
But while people are tsk-tsking like grandmothers over “the appropriateness” of what Williams (and by proxy, all women) can wear to the tennis court, I applaud Williams’s choices.
Venus Williams has clearly made a choice to look feminine, even if the only way to articulate that is at the risk of costume-y ruffles and piping. The tennis outfit has to be functional above all, so there’s a very limited palette upon which to add flair. Forget all the things you can do with sleeves. Forget silk and organza. Forget delicate buttons. The amount of real estate given over to the tennis dress is very small, and the dress has to breathe, has to move, has to stay out of her way.
Ah yes – the only way to look “feminine” on the tennis court is by wearing a “breathable” “flexible” mini-dress designed to look like lingerie and flesh-colored boy shorts designed to create the “illusion” of wearning nothing underneath. *Slaps self upside the head.* I’ll make sure to remember that the next time I take up a game of tennis, because, as is the case with most sports, rather than wanting to deemphasize the fact that I’m a woman and instead wanting to emphasize my abilities, I need to wear something that draws attention to the fact that I’m a woman, in spite of the fact that it’s pretty obvious that I AM a woman – just like it’s obvious Venus is a woman, too.
With such limited choices, Williams plays up the “dress” in tennis dress with flouncy, flirty skirts. Does the French Open outfit look like a costume? Sure. But Williams is in the spotlight in front of millions of eyes; she’s nodding to the fact that the whole game is a performance.
In the end, people are tut-tutting the aesthetics of the dress, when they’re really made uncomfortable by the implicit sexuality on display. The long legs, those strong shoulders. The bodice hews close to her torso. So let’s not get it twisted: people are discomfited and excited by the revealing bits of a woman’s muscular body and they’re blaming the dress for the reason they can’t stop looking.
Oh, dear God. Is there enough money in the world to buy Ramirez a freaking clue? If only.
How odd it is that Ramirez seems positively offended that anyone would dare criticize Venus Williams’ fashion choices? See, this is the way that some fashionistas operate: They advocate that the modern woman be fashionable and chic, but can’t stand it that other men – and women – might not like the particular “style” the wearer projects. Apparently it’s ok to praise women and their fashion choices – no matter how gaudy or outrageous, but if you have the nerve to criticize a woman’s fashion choices, in particular for being revealing, you are ‘judging her not for her abilities but on the basis of her sex‘ or are a “grandmother” whose eyes sting at the mere thought of a woman showing an ankle. In other words, professional, successful women can wear whatever they want, and you’re welcomed to it – without comment, unless you like their respective outfits.
And here I thought feminism was, in part, about erasing double standards.
Newsflash for Ramirez: Fashion ain’t just for praisin’, hon. It’s for critiquing, as well (kinda like, you know, music and movies?) – and most of the time it has nothing to do with prudish folks like me being scandalized at the mere thought of seeing extra flesh (trust me) but instead the appropriateness of the outfit and the message it sends to young people. See, there’s this little thing called “responsibility” that goes along with everything we do in life, including what we wear. I’m not going to wear a tube top to a job interview, nor wear a thong bikini to pick up a child from daycare, nor a plunging neckline dress to meet my b/f’s parents – and neither should you. There’s a time and a place for everything, again – including what we wear.
Inevitably when I make arguments like these, an email or two arrives in my inbox from a feminista who says something along the lines of “would you have felt the same back in the old days when women were required to cover up from head to toe”? Of course not, but then again there is a difference between breaking barriers when it comes to fashion and just plain out and out showing your a** (in this case literally) solely in order to draw attention to yourself. Way “back in the day” when women were made to wear dresses and tops that covered them from top to bottom, classical (equity) feminists pushed for more comfortable clothing so that they could breathe and live and and work and not swelter in the summer heat. Not saying that people, especially women, weren’t concerned about fashion and looking good in those days – they were – but it was not so much about showing more leg as it was about being practical.
These days – ever since the “sexual revolution” of the 60s, it has gone beyond being about merely “pushing the envelope” but instead “let’s see what I can get away with.” The narcissism is tired and boring, but the “all about me” message it sends to young people is both disturbing and destructive. And can be, in some cases, dangerous. How many times have we warned young women in our lives who we care about to be careful what they wear, because it might draw the wrong attention? Bbbbut you better not say that too loud, because others will wrongly accuse you of saying women who are stalked and/or raped “deserved it” when that is not even in the stratosphere of what I and most other women (and men) mean when they say “be careful what you wear.”
Again, it all goes back to responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be fashionable, but these days apparently for some female fashion critics, the only way to be fashionable is to “show it all off.” Simply put, there is something wrong when “fashion” crosses a line from being cute and trendy to being crude, tacky, and tasteless. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to wear clothing that respectfully compliments your shape, but there is something wrong with wearing something so overtly clingy, see-through, flesh-colored, short, tight, low-cut, etc. that it takes attention away from who you are and what you are all about and transfers it to what you wear and whether or not you have a “great body” and would be a “great lay.”
Good grief – I thought women had gotten beyond all this? Well, some of us have, anyway.
I’ll be the first to say that I admire bodies that are obviously physically fit. On women, those types of bodies make me envious; on men, they make me go grrr. But I’m more likely to respect more those women and men if they don’t go out of their way to blatantly show off their, er, wares.
Respect. What a novel concept, eh?
Oh, by the way – Would someone get some smelling salts for Ms. Ramirez? I have a feeling that, once she finally figures out that people really can object to the fashion choices of others on the basis of something other than being averse to showing skin, she’s going to need them.