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Our Black Bodies Our Black Selves - The REST of the Venus Williams Photos

Venus Williams French Open Tennis 2010

Racial and gender equality mean an equal opportunity to act a fool on the international stage. But that belies a larger question.. Do Black girls have the option of being "different." Whimsical. Creative.  Are our bodies only allowed to be shoved into some sexual context anytime they are displayed? To some people what Venus Williams wore on the first day of the French Open was obscene. I was ready to hop on the bandwagon with you.  Until I actually looked at other pictures of the "outfit" and quite frankly its more odd than obscene in fact when viewed inlight of the apparel for both men and women across all sports, its rather boring. She needs to try harder to stretch the limits like playing tennis in dirty coveralls.

Sports News - March 24, 2010

Yes,  Venus Williams looks ri-dayum- diculous playing in the hot blazing sun in a Black lace corset, but when you actually look at the photos of her playing at different angles, it doesn't look any different than figure skating when they wear body stockings. The shorts aren't actually the same color as her skin.  And Venus actually has a history of wearing brown undergarments to give the illusion of skin. Much like women's ( and men's) figureskating. See, here she is rocking a "nude" undergarment at the Australian Open. Its brown that's all.
2010 Australian Open - Day 10

Venus Williams of the USA

She's been rocking this corset/ tennis dress variation for a while.
TENNIS 2010 - Sony Ericsson Open - Clijsters Wins Women's Final

I've always liked that Venus was rather quiet and went about her business.  Whenever she plays Serena, I always cheer for Venus. She's my favorite of the two. Here you have a girl that literally drug her entire family from Compton on the back of her back swing. She never got to be a crazy kid and I've always gotten the impression that she was an old soul who marched to the beat of a different drum. Plus, she fancies herself a fashion designer.  DO i think the outfit is tacky and inappropriate for athletic wear? Yes, but I also think grown men shouldn't wear feathers in public, EVER unless they are selling a bucket of chicken, performing some ceremonial role or are a college mascot.

Men's Figure Skating Free Program at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

So when I saw the photos of Venus all over the internet. I had to ask myself...hmm what about this is offensive? Is it that she appears to be wearing Black lace and a thong on a tennis court in the hot sun of Roland Garros? Actually the "thong" people are referring to looks like a line of perspiration. I just don't see her playing tennis in a thong. Is it that I automatically assume that she's wanting attention and the best way she figured out she could grab attention was  in this manner. Or am I joining the throngs of people who are uncomfortable with a Black female form being displayed in this way . After all, we went almost an entire summer trying to spot Brittany Spears without undies. What has been enlightening has been reading the reactions to these photos online. I finally settled on Venus Williams always being rather out there. She fancies herself a fashion designer. The outfit only looks "nude" if you stare at a single frame photograph taken from a certain angle. When we equate every Black female for to those of Video "Vixens" then THAT's the problem. Every time a Black woman wears something form fitting doesn't mean she's a prop or a prostitute. For example, if you've ever been to a ballet, everybody wears form fitting clothing. Sprinters wear form fitting clothing. Figure skaters wear "nude" costumes covered by feathers.
ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Day Five

Or worse, dressed up as indigenous people. Does anyone remember this foolishness.

Festa On Ice 2010

So do bobsledders. Volleyball players. I can see how she would have thought this hot scratchy completely inappropriate for sport outfit was a work of art. I don't get the "sexually provocative" intent from this ridiculous getup, I get the looney artist vibe from this getup. It looks like a Black tutu. Venus is allowed to be a loon if she wants to. In any regard somewhere Wilma Rudolph and Althea Gibson are either applauding or rolling over in their graves rotisserie style. Josephine Baker is likely falling out laughing. . Here are some other angles of the photos of Venus in her infamous dress.I was going to rant until I saw these other angles. It doesn't look nude at all to me. It just looks tacky and in poor taste. Like Black leather in the middle of summer. Or a man dressed in a suit the color of one of the primary colors with gators  and a fedora to match or flip flops and cut offs to Sunday service.Maybe she's doing all this for attention, but so did the two idiots who doned war paint for their paris figure skating routine.

Just because Venus is a Black woman doesn't mean she's not entitled to be tacky.   The brown color doesn't bother me nearly as much as the idea of someone playing tennis in lace I hope its microfiber dri weave.
Venus Williams French Open 2010

Venus Williams French Open Tennis 2010

Venus Williams French Open 2010

Venus Williams French Open Tennis 2010

Venus Williams French Open 2010

Reader Comments (34)

The outfit is ugly, does not flatter her and photographs really badly in tennis action shots. It doesn't require more analysis than that.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Season

@Political Season,
Heave you read the comments in response to the outfit? Its a hideous outfit, but no more hideous than what figure skaters wear. People referring to her as a man, calling her disgusting, obscene, if she was blond haired and blue eyed, I just don't think this would have been the reaction. She would have been mocked, yes, but the extra stuff is clearly because she's a Black woman.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergem2001

Exactly! I reject the notion that, as a Black woman, I can't be tacky, have poor taste or walk to the beat of my own drummer. I am a human being! I have the right to be quirky, funky, emo, goth, biker-chic or anything in between. I am sick to death of every single aspect of our personalities or bodies being analyzed through a sexualized lens. That's the real issue. Venus dared to be different, well good on her! I can think her outfit is hideous and still defend to the death her right to wear it.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTamiko

It's just an ugly outfit. She's not the first woman to wear something ugly and won't be the last. Who knows maybe ugly tacky tennis outfits bring her good luck. It didn't appear to hurt her game any so let her express herself.

I totally agree that there is a double standard because here in Florida a lot of young white woman are wearing a style of shorts that look just like "tight boxers shorts".

Every time I see them and many times they are accompanied by there parents I cringe. I know for a fact that if that was a black female wearing the same there would be complete out rage.

There is a double standard, black girls and woman are being sexualized at every turn, even when not in a BET video.(i.e. 'video vixen' Barbie) It is a part of what I have to stress to my teen daughters who could never in a million years be allowed to wear anything close to those shorts.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertusk91

I don't think this is about race but more about her height and bodytype and this unflattering outfit

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterblkchik

I dunno, I think Venus was Avante Garde in choosing her Tennis outfit and the ONLY reason she's gotten this type of negative attention is due to her being black and BEING THE SECOND BEST WTA TOUR PLAYER IN THE WORLD RIGHT BEHIND HER BLACK SISTER SERENA. Yep, I said it. Bethani Mattek, is a subpar white tennis player with questionable fashion taste, so is Maria Sharapova, but since neither of them are playing at the level Venus and Serena are playing, you don't hear about their tacky outfits.

Bethanie Mattek actually showed up for a match dressed in a catwoman (tiger and leopard print) inspired ensemble and lost badly. Venus shows up in Moulin Rouge inspired outfit and smashes the hell out of Patty Schnyder. But she's tacky because we all know that the reason Venus is one of the top grossing female tennis players of all time is because of what she wears. *snickers*

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBLKSeaGoat

As I see it, this has been the Williams sisters' M.O. for awhile now. They're not just tennis players; they're also "entertainers." Each is her own package, and their style of dress (as GEM noted, they have expressed interest in fashion design), and manner and ways of being are all part of their appeal (for better or worse) to audiences and the companies that pay them to advertise their products.

I have no qualms about the outfit. Not because I'm male and I'm looking at this through some sexualized lens, but because, ultimately, I just don't think it's that big of a deal, and she should be free to wear whatever she wants, as long as it's within guidelines set forth by the tennis organizations she's playing for. We are the ones making it a big deal. And the comments I've read on my blog and elsewhere in response to it all have been puzzling... some heartbreaking even.

We say we don't want to be regarded as a monolith, but yet we try to force conformity on others who don't adhere to some unwritten "black" standard.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShadow And Act

well, hummm-mm, I agree with you all, the critics seem to want an extra pound of flesh when it comes to any "odd" behaviour of the Williams Sisters, given they are the top tennis players in the world right now. But if I understood GEM correctly, the outfit is tacky (the "line of perspiration" -- not pretty!).

Our bodies are beautiful, in all our various shapes, sizes, dimensions, etc., call me a prude but does being an artist mean anything goes? Like with Erykah Badu doing the strip thing at the site where JFK was murdered, I didn't like that. What point or statement did that make? A statement against group think? Is she kidding? I would not want anyone to do the same at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. And you know some of us would have thrown old shoes at Madonna or Lady GaGa if they did something similar at the Lorraine Hotel. :(

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrevmamaafrika.com

I don't get the big deal about Venus' outfit. I don't find it tacky or pretty - it's just another tennis outfit. There's plenty of ugly outfits being worn by tennis players, figure skaters, etc. Venus before wore outfits with cut-outs on the side and some with not a lot in the back - just like other players have worn. I almost get the feeling that some people are up in arms because they're mad she is the first to figure out how to use washable lace in a tennis outfit. The lace is placed over a layer of brown athletic performance material (i.e., it's made out of the same athletic performance material as the undershorts), so I doubt it's too hot to perform in. Other players have put a layer of chiffon over athletic performance material to add interest to an outfit (e.g., Maria Sharapova). Some players have worn tops/dresses with sheer mesh that is in fact see-through (and meant to be see-through). The outfit isn't even particularly revealing - it just gives an illusion of bareness because the material underneath the dress and the undershorts are close to her skin color. All this overreaction to the outfit betrays that it's not really the outfit some people are reacting to.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandra77

Only default human beings (i.e white people) get to be quirky and 'different'.
When Black people are they're just weird and looked at as lunatics and never really taken seriously.
And I agree, Black women are often looked at with a sexualized lens, never romanticized, always sexual.
Why are black people not allowed to be individuals without people criticizing ?

It's so bad that when i see a black girl with short-shorts, cut off jeans shorts or something similar, i cringe and i think she looks 'slutty', but if a white girl wears the same shorts, i think nothing of it.
And I am a black girl myself.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterObserver

Usually I agree with the author's perspective on this blog. However, this one, in my opinion, is out of context. The outfit worn in the US Open and that worn in a figure skating contest is no comparison. Not apples to apples! In skating, part of the score card is designated to costume! Not the same in tennis. Chose to stick to the sport that you're playing or be prepared for what folks are going to say. Unfortunately, it's the unofficial rules of the game.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAgainst the Grain


ITA with you about the Erykah Badu video. Erykah is crazy and just doesn't care, but I love her anyway. Still, I would be a little perturbed if I was walking down the street minding my own business and some random chick (or dude) decides to show me the goodies. I have no problem with the nude human body (and Erykah looks GOOD btw) but I should be given a choice of when/whether I want to see it. She should have shot that video on a closed set.

OK, back to the topic at hand.... I love Venus. But she has no fashion sense. What. So. Ev. er. I have no idea who would buy anything she designed. That outfit is beyond tacky. It is a H.A.M. With that said, I also agree that some folks went too far in their criticism. She has bad taste. This is nothing new. Folks need to leave it at that and let it go already.....

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMommieDearest

I think Chris Rock said it best..."I will have equality when I have the right to suck JUST like white folks do!"

The worst thing is when we jump on the bandwagon and judge her harshly...disliking her outfit and making attacks on her person are two completely different things.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSilkOne


Who is Bathanie Mattek?

Venus & Serena have both been known for throwing their fingers up at the tennis establishment. All I know is she better win the tournament. Also, she better not allow one nipple or areola or whatever you called it to pop out or she will be banned!

I heard Venus say she was going for "the illusion of bareness." Huh? Didn't she go to fashion school? . . . Probably at the Univ. of Phoenix. I keep telling everybody that Black folks have lost their righteous minds. It's a pandemic out there. This is a carry over from grown men wearing there pants under their buttocks.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlackAchievement

Black Achievement said "she better not allow one nipple or areola or whatever you called it to pop out or she will be banned!"

What else do you ca;; it? She has a body suit underneath it there is no way she's playing in lace without a lining.

May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergem2001

@Gem2001 The Williams sisters have always been derided within the tennis world. The extra dose of criticism is nothing new. Fact is, some of those tennis photos ARE damn scary looking. The commentary and criticism Venus is getting is extra, but no more than its ever been and as I think most all of us agree, the outfit is indeed ugly. Not just quirky, but ugly. I will of course enjoy it immensely if she repeatedly wears this ugly stuff throughout the tournament and then wins it.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Season

"I don’t get the big deal about Venus’ outfit. I don’t find it tacky or pretty – it’s just another tennis outfit. There’s plenty of ugly outfits being worn by tennis players, figure skaters, etc."

I co sign on this one.

"And I agree, Black women are often looked at with a sexualized lens, never romanticized, always sexual."

I agree with this as well.

The dress isn't my cup of tea, but whatever.....Venus and Serena are always being derided for something. What's new? I hope they continue to excel.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCool Beans

Whatever!!! She can wear what she wants; as long as, I don't see her goodies.
Now there should be sport stories about obsessed fans; particularly when it comes to basketball and football. These Laker fans in LA are losing their minds.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLD

Always trying to police the bodies of women and what they wear. You can miss me with that. She's a grown ass woman. She can wear what she wants.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMizJJ

I wish you had included more examples within the tennis world of the different kinds of outfits worn - and that don't receive so much criticism. I don't follow the sport so I don't know whats worn nowadays.

Anyway, I think part of the criticism in addition to the usual racist prattle was because she failed in presenting her sexuality properly. Women have to walk a delicate balance - where they must be sexually appealing, but seen as respectable at the same time. Which is why Venus' other skimpy outfits are seen as cute (code for good girl sexy), but not this one. Black lace with red piping is still seen in the context of appropriate bed room wear - bad girl wear. Add to that the unfortunate choice to wear flesh tone panties.
And you can make the argument that Venus wanted the sort of attention that good girls aren't suppose to want.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKjen

Also, Venus's use of fleshtone was different than the figure skaters, who weren't using flesh to cover up their breasts or bottom, which are body parts heavily sexualized. So much so that many in society don't even care for seeing breast feeding in public.

I wanted to defend her. And I will. She has the right to wear whatever she wants.

(Okay, I just googled Venus and her underpants - Lord, forgive me for all the time i waste on the internet. She's worn it before and received the same criticism. Is she advertising for something - yes, if she has a mercenary reason for continuing to wear flesh panties it does change my vision of her as a quirky, fashionista.)

But why would you want to leave people guessing whether they can actually see your a** or not?

She stepped out. Venus chose to be different. And regardless of color, if your differentness flies in the face of accepted values, there is censure.

Too much criticism because she's black?


But tackiness has a price no matter what your color.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKjen

My first thought was: why are the photographers up in her gams taking such explicit photos of her junk? They some nasty old *&(#@!s.

Back when I used to watch tennis, and Mr. Martina Navratilova was Tennis Queen, no one took these kind of photos. I agree they dressed more conservatively, but no one event went after a camel toe picture each and every time.

As for her outfit: it's so brain cramping hot playing tennis in the middle of the day, I'd dress eccentrically too.

Hey folks, brown skin attracts the eye. By default, it is sexy. Ain't much we can do about it aside from wearing a burka. Keep in mind that pale skinned body builders get a tan to look "healthy and attractive." That's all you need to know....

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBetty Chambers

It is no mistake that the most widely circulated picture shows Venus' booty. People tend to equate booty with Black women in a negative way. So, by not covering her butt, trying to make to it appear smaller (i.e. whiter) eh is somehow offending the sensibilities of white people. While I do not find the outfit particularly attractive, I applaud Venus' choice to emphasize rather than hide what God gave her.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

blkchk~you don't follow tennis and the comments.

Thank you Gina. I saw the picture and refused to look at the comments because I know what's there.

Sure..the outfit is fug, but whose isn't (Agassi's pink)? My thing is how many photos there are and the angles that are used. Sharapova et al have stuff exposed too, but are never depicted this way. Anna Kournikova (and her mediocre self) built a career on it.

It is killing folks that the Williams sisters are killing it.

May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaJane Galt

I don't think the figure skating comparison works. Figure skaters tacky outfits are seen as part of the performance, like dressing for a theme party. Some people - not myself even though I enjoy watching figure skating - would deem that those tacky outfits feed into the enjoyment of the sport. High camp, y'know.
Tennis is a more conservative sport, its reactions to both the Williams sisters have as far as I can see always had strong implications for how mass media and the world of sport reacts to black women and thier bodies. Bear in mind it is also a sexist sport, even though it is politer in sexualising white women than it is black it still marginalises them by reducing them to their grunts and sexiness. For example the interest in Kourinkova as a hottie far exceed the interest in her tennis and the coverage of her far exceed I support the Williams sisters wholeheartedly, I belive all black women should have the right to just be whatever, whatever, without criticism.
But this outfit as you've said yourself is tacky and dismissing it blindly as OK because in comparison to white folks or other figure skaters its not that bad is also problematic.

May 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbivi

Well, I think it's great! She's mixed fun and functional. She has a sense of fun. Why not?!

May 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermimi

Hey Gina, don't 'dis Johnny Weir!

Seriously. I don’t have a problem with what she’s wearing at all, I think it's tacky but if she wants to wear it more power to her.

However I think the issue with Venus is twofold. It’s because she’s black and because she’s not a stick.

Ten years ago, the department where I used to work initiated a dress code. There never had been one before. Someone asked why they were initiating one and they were told that one of the Deans of the school saw a person from our department and didn’t like what she was wearing. Later I found out that the person was a young heavyset white woman wearing Capri pants and a tank top that did not look good on her at all (I saw the outfit). And I knew that if she were a size three and wearing the same outfit, no one would have cared.

May 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEva

First of all, I really don't see the outfit as a big deal. However, tennis is still a very staid and conservative sport. So be it.

I'm not sure though that you can compare tennis outfits to a skater's costume; that's really what they are. A skater's outfit is usually directly related to the piece of music or overall feel of their performance. Tennis is not a performance, nor do costumes, music, or style enter into it.

May 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter!?

Honestly, as a fashion designer I've been searching for a "nude" colored fabric that matches my brown skin tone as well as those shorts match Venus'. I congratulate her on finding something so close. Her choice in wardrobe is unfortunate, but if she can still play tennis as well as she does then she should get to wear whatever she wants as long as it is in line with league regulations. Of course, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if regulations all of a sudden changed to accommodate a different sensibility.

May 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterclairelynette

I have no problem with these pictures at all. Athletes sweat all over their bodies, and in ways that don't always look pretty. As for her outfit and whether or not it is tacky, I don't watch Venus Williams play tennis for her outfits and her good fashion sense. I watch her for the thing she does best, slamming one fiery serve after another down the throats of her opponents.

May 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlack on Campus

I think her dress was tacky and tasteless. It looks like a lingerie and I don't think athletes should be allowed to wear something like that. I think it has nothing in common with empowering black women, rather the opposite. In fact, that thing would not empower any woman it only makes one looking rather cheap.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarine

Also it's quite hypocritical to complain about racism and stereotypes and then start with "if she was blond with blue eyes" comment. That's also racist stereotyping. Also, the outfits pictured above were not as revealing as Venus dress. It was a real "triumph" in sportswear design. It is her right to wear it, of course, but then again it's my right to have an opinion about it, too.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarine


That's not racist steretyping. White people get to be trifling and no one complains about it. Venus wears tacky outfits and it becomes a byline for EVERY day she remains in the tournament. If you are that dull to not notice, fine, but don't deny it .

The Williams sisters are under a microscope and finally they are focused this year. Serena is going to win another French open crown and Venus another Wimbledon.

June 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBLKSeaGoat

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