Are Venus Williams’ “Risque and Revealing” Outfits Fair Game?


The 2010 US Open is currently underway, and you’d think everyone would be talking serve speeds, match points, and “love”.

Alas, they’re only talking underwear. Venus Williams’ underwear, to be specific.

This is a public service announcement.

Attention: sportscasters John McEnroe and Dick Enberg, mainstream media outlets like the Huffington Post, non-mainstream media outlets, internet commentors, sports aficionados, coercive nazi-stylistas, Nsenga Burton, and all you other haters out there!!!!

Stop STOP Stop commenting excessively on the outfit choices of Venus Williams, one of the most talented professional athletes of all time.

Stop hosting “tug counts” to mark the number of times she adjusts her outfit while on the court.

Stop using sexist words like “hoochie” to describe her.

Stop objectifying her black body at your own whim and for your own aims.

Stop forcing her to play a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t game of female style choices and acceptance.

Stop ratching up hit counts by posting pictures of Venus Williams playing tennis under headlines like “Venus in her Underwear”.

Stop using Venus’ outfit choices as an excuse for discrimination and racism by saying things like “Other than outright bias, perhaps people don’t treat Venus and her sister, Serena, like the champions and brilliant tennis players they are because they don’t represent themselves as such — hence the rocking of a bedazzled long T-shirt that rolls up at the U.S. Open.”

You may think you’re just giving your opinion on the latest issue of the day, but the truth is that you’re only the latest to be contributing to a played-out narrative in which female bodies- and African-American bodies especially- face heightened scrutiny, objectification, exploitation,

Ann posted several weeks ago on the NYTimes magazine piece on female tennis players, including the Williams sisters, and the transgressive beauty of strength. She expressed her initial annoyance at the Times‘ framing: all about how the strength of these athletes is “beautiful” before coming around to the “beauty” framing, since  “there is definitely something beautiful about athletic prowess as exhibited by women or men. The difference is we very rarely see sheer strength and power portrayed as beautiful and sexy when it’s exhibited by women.”

It strikes me that it is perhaps a marked discomfort with watching a woman publicly and explicitly aim to be both strong AND beautiful and sexy- and a black woman at that- which is behind all this outfit-related hullabaloo.

So, back to the original question. Are Venus Williams’ outfits “fair game” for excessive public scrutiny?

Nope. Not if you’re interested in supporting female athletes, or women in general, for that matter.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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