Last year, Serena Williams caused controversy with her ‘Wakanda-inspired’ catsuit at the French Open. This year, eager to outdo herself, the 37-year-old tennis champion wore a zebra patterned outfit emblazoned with the words, ‘Queen,’ ‘Goddess,’ ‘Mother,’ and ‘Champion.’ Cockburn cannot argue with the last two: Ms Williams is a mother and champion, but queen and goddess are a bit ridiculous.
It’s all PR guff, of course, but sane people can’t help but feel that Serena Williams’s ego is a monstrous thing. When asked about her unusual zebra-skin attire, Williams explained, ‘Those are things that mean a lot to me and [are] a reminder… just to remind everyone that they, you know, can be champions and are queens.’
The ‘they’ there, Cockburn understands, refers to ordinary people who aren’t multi-millionaire sports stars.
Williams added, ‘it is a lot to carry,’ but ‘so is being Serena Williams.’ The poor girl.
Piers Morgan, sensing his moment, claimed the outfit looked ‘absolutely diabolical.’
It seems that, for Williams, winning tournaments isn’t enough. She must be talked about, and she has to get into matters beyond sport: feminism, or racism, perhaps soon even ageism. She must be heard by everyone — even people who don’t care about tennis — if she is to sell enough Serena merchandise and feel good.
The French Open changed its dress code following a similar cry for attention from Williams last year, when she wore a Black Panther-inspired catsuit.
The usual news outlets responded at the time in all the same, predictable ways that your average consumer has come to expect.
The Guardian claimed the ban on the catsuit was about the sexualization of black women, while Vox insisted it was proof that ‘tennis can’t get past its elitist roots.’
Some even insinuated that the ban on catsuits was an act of institutional racism, due to Williams citing the Marvel blockbuster movie Black Panther as her inspiration for the design, and telling reporters that it made her feel like a ‘queen from Wakanda,’ referencing the fictional African nation from the movie.
There was really no margin for error on Williams’s part. Either way, people would be talking about her. She knew the reactions that wearing such a suit would generate, which is precisely why she did it.
It’s less about social justice, more about showing off, Cockburn reckons.