Why Are Black Bodies Still Being Policed?

If the Serena Williams catsuit debacle isn't a perfect example of the policing of black bodies, then nothing is. When Serena wore a black catsuit to one of her games, the look was inspiring, strong, poised and utterly confident. She said the suit made her feel like “a warrior.” The reaction to the suit, however, was the complete opposite:

"French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, announced that they would be enacting a dress code for future games. He said that outfits like Serena's go 'too far' and specifically called out her bodysuit. 'It will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place' he said."

The suit was not only functional, but served a pivotal medical purpose for Williams as well, who suffers from blood clots. The compression suit, literally stops her from serious medical complications whilst playing. Many reacted with anger at this policing of Serena's black body, including former tennis star Billie Jean King. The best reaction though was one by Williams herself, who showed up to her next game (which she won might we add), with guns ablaze and a black tutu to top it all off! The black fishnet stockings she wore to complete the look helped serve the role of the compression suit worn before.

"The tutu dress is part of designer Virgil Abloh's 'QUEEN' collection with Nike — a line inspired by Serena herself."

Such criticisms of Williams also extends to other tennis players as well. Caroline Wozniacki famously body shamed Williams in 2012, by "stuffing both her chest and shorts with padding.” These seemingly 'fun and games' kind of jabs at black sports stars like Williams, need to stop. Williams did not, however, react with as much anger as many others, who found Wozniacki's parade to be laced in racism.

“I know Caro and I would call her my friend,” she (Williams) wrote in an email to USA Today. “I don’t think she (meant) anything racist by it.” Williams also pointed to other players who have impersonated her but weren’t accused of racism. “[Andy] Roddick and [Novak] Djokovic do it all the time and Caro does (it) and now it’s racist??” she said.

The Williams sisters have suffered from criticism from the press and other players throughout their lives, from their hair to their curves. Williams has been likened to being less feminine and consequently more masculine, because of her body; and has often been described in animalistic terms, often being compared to a gorilla. This begs the question as to why certain body types and features are 'more feminine' or 'more beautiful and attractive' than others, whilst black bodies are often viewed as less than.

"In 2006, a columnist for the Telegraph [wrote,] 'Generally, I'm all for chunky sports stars', he wrote. ´But tennis requires a mobility Serena cannot hope to achieve while lugging around breasts that are registered to vote in a different US state from the rest of her."

The Serena catsuit debacle example is just one of the many examples of black bodies being policed across the board. Sadly, our sports stars often get the brunt of much of this policing.


Williams' body's policing in the past and her somewhat passive and peaceful reactions begs the question as to why she does not stand up for herself based on what the world deems to be clear racist jabs at her. One thing is clear, however: Williams seems to be choosing her battles strategically and has shown that others' comments should by no means put a damper on your fire or body confidence. And I'm sure we can all agree that Serena doesn't stop bringing that fire, no matter what!

"'Oh God, I'll never be a size 4! Why would I want to do that, and be that? ... This is me, and this is my weapon and machine', she said, gesturing to her bicep."