5 Looks At Venus Williams’ Ass(ets)

Venus Williams’ recent French Open display of her assets (and by that I also mean her clothing line and her masterful tennis prowess), has upset a few people who feel that the wardrobe choice was risqué and inappropriate. I want to explore five important gender lessons we can all learn from a lingering look at Williams’ behind (which you can see here).

1. Even a professional, successful woman like Venus Williams believes that she has to be sexy and not just skilled in order to sell a product. Off the court, the ensemble could pass for lingerie. As a businesswoman, Williams seems to believe that sexy is the best way to market to her target audience even though the look is neither entirely practical for her sport nor appropriate for young girl tennis players.

2. Black women’s bodies are products that produce cash for white patriarchy. Lest the naysayers forget, Williams had to get permission from the Women’s Tennis Association to wear her outfit during the tournament. I find it hard to believe that the decision-makers didn’t consider the economic appeal of a young, sexy woman player looking half-naked on the court. The blogosphere and YouTube are already riddled with commentary implying that Williams has a great body and should play naked. My guess is that many of her fans are not regular French Open audiences.

3. Black women’s behinds are still an international spectacle. It’s wildy ironic that Venus Williams and “The Hottentot Venus” share a name and spectacle status because of their bottoms. The original black Venus was Sara Baartman, an African slave displayed across Europe as a freak show because of her unusually large buttocks, genitalia and other distinct physical features. Even after her death she was an object of scientific allure—many of her body parts were preserved for display. Of course, according to Latoya Peterson, black booty body politics are frequently discussed in contemporary popular culture. Peterson notes that she had to learn to appreciate her curves as an alternative beauty standard while at the same time negotiating the unwarranted attention that her curves drew.

4. Flesh-colored underwear now includes dark brown in addition to beige. For all the brown-skinned women out there, I hope Williams’ line permanently includes them. Every woman knows, if you’re gonna show your drawers, they should be same color as your skin. It’s just polite. Which is why I was surprised at the amount of people who automatically assumed that Williams wasn’t wearing panties. Why would a woman show up to her job and show her behind without panties? This moment tells me that too many people still believe the stereotypes of the innately indecorous black woman who does not know how to dress let alone behave in public.

5. A woman athlete receives more attention for what she wears than how well she plays. Props to Tracy Clark-Flory of Broadsheet who made a point of noting that Williams decimated her opponent Patty Schnyder with consecutive 6-3 victories while “maintaining her number two world ranking while dressed for the Moulin Rouge.”

All of those important lessons learned, I am proud to have the opportunity to discuss the wardrobe choices of an African American woman on top of the world’s tennis game, because they are her choices as opposed to the forced displays of her historical predecessor.  Black women’s body displays are still very often problematic because of their associations with patriarchy and profit, but as Williams helps us understand, black women are exercising more control over those bodies than they ever have before.

Above: Venus Williams at the 2009 French Open in a more demure booty display. Creative Commons, ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Comments

  1. Damn… You killed it Dr. U. I am humbled to learn from you. That said, the issue is that it is her choice. However, like you also pointed out is… What about the young girls who think this is ok to wear? My daughter would not, until she has her own money. Nonetheless, Venus is grown. The other issue that really hit me is that she had to get PERMISSION to wear clothes to play in. That is wild to me. Permission, for a grown woman with a clear ability to play tennis, to wear her own clothes. That is very deep.

  2. I’m now starting to wonder if it was HER choice to wear the dress after all or if she was forced/paid/coerced into wearing the dress by the “white patriarchy”/money makers behind the French Open???

  3. I’d just like to add one point to this discussion of Venus’ wardrobe (and I am a tennis watcher — have been since exactly nine years ago when I got very sick while in Paris and the French Open was the only thing I could understand on TV).

    In addition to keeping her tennis ranking up, Venus has completed a degree in fashion and has her own wardrobe line, called Eleven (or it could be 11, I’m not sure — it’s in honor of her sister who was slain). What makes her line unique is that it is inexpensive. I admire that so much. The other players are wearing their Nike or Addidas outfits and even though the players may have designed or helped design what they’re wearing, lots of people can’t afford to buy them. Venus’ line is affordable.

    That said, I suppose any parent reading this who has a young girl and is looking for a tennis outfit will probably take a pass on her Moulin Rouge creation. But that’s okay. Just think of it as a PG outfit!

    Toni Bernhard
    http://www.howtobesick.com

  4. Damn… You killed it Dr. U. I am humbled to learn from you. That said, the issue is that it is her choice. However, like you also pointed out is… What about the young girls who think this is ok to wear? My daughter would not, until she has her own money. Nonetheless, Venus is grown. The other issue that really hit me is that she had to get PERMISSION to wear clothes to play in. That is wild to me. Permission, for a grown woman with a clear ability to play tennis, to wear her own clothes. That is very deep.
    +1

  5. Tlogirl says:

    I am a very open-minded, sex-positive feminist who happens to play tennis regularly. I agree with the comments made in this article but really take exception to the idea of ANY woman of ANY skin color wearing a tennis skirt with ball shorts that match her flesh-tone so closely. It is inappropriate and needlessly provocative when the emphasis should be on athletic endeavor and fitness.

  6. I just think only one woman could wear that outfit and survive, let alone win, a tennis match in the pounding sun and heat. It doesn’t look like it breathes much, but okay, that could be trompe-l’oeil. The frills at the bottom may or may not be distracting. Also, wearing black attracts heat from the sun so there could be a risk of dehydration or heat stroke for some people. Maybe a little white cotton number with the same piping and made of cotton would help as an alternative choice. Another problem is that spaghetti straps can be really uncomfortable, especially for small-chested women. Anyway, more power to her if she can pull it off. I just don’t recommend a corset version :) But then I bet Venus Williams would win with that one on too.

  7. That is wild to me. Permission, for a grown woman with a clear ability to play tennis, to wear her own clothes. That is very deep.

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