I love sports textiles when they are well designed. The wicking away of sweat, protection of the body from the cold, and flexibility are just some of the qualities I look for in a good of yoga clothes that will cover my every requirement from the moment I leave my house, to my practice, and then my return trip home. Innovative fabric technologies are used to help the wearer improve her performance and fibers most comment in sportswear are light weight, easy to wash, quick drying and shrink resistant. Fibers that are light weight, soft, easy to maintain, do not shrink, and dry quickly are normally used.
One of my favorite yoga shirts to wear when it is one of those summers that New York is currently experiencing is a sports bra which is more of a crop top. It is lightweight and form-fitting and I can jog or engage in my asana practice. When textile technology is well-engineered, it’s often not only great for the body’s comfort but it can also enhance sport performance. For instance, Reebok has even made a gel-infused sports bra which changes according to the body’s movement, becoming firmer as the wearer’s body moves more quickly. Sportswear is one of the fastest growing sectors of the textile industry with a global market estimated to be at $174.2 billion, so there is good reason why this industry is constantly innovating new technology of the body.
Take for instance, the latest in compression clothing where sportswear has recently modeled new lines after medical technology such as compression stockings which are worn over the leg in order to create a gradient compressive force. Non only does this improve blood flow and decrease stasis of the veins (preventing thrombosis among other conditions), but this clothing, due its snug fit, can enhance performance across a range of sports. Used in running, cycling, golfing, and even tennis. And research conducted shows a series of experiments and research it was concluded that compression garments can enhance performance in certain types of sports, such as those that use vertical jumping in volleyball. These clothes can also be helpful in the recovery of the muscle after injury.
Serena Williams was in the news this week for what she called her “Wakanda-inspired catsuit” worn during the French Open three months ago. For whatever reason it took three months for people to get upset over Williams’ choice of dress with no mention of the medical benefits that it can serve someone who gave birth to a child less than a year before. Well in case you’ve been busy, this week was the official “let’s judge sportswomen’s clothing week.” No concern for Williams’ deep vein thromboses that developed in her legs as a result of a pulmonary embolism she suffered after the birth of her daughter, to hell with women covering their bodies! And against the backdrop of the tennis fashionistas of the French Open, Williams’ health concerns were treated as incidental when her outfit was banned.
And on Tuesday in New York, France’s Alizé Cornet received a code violation at the U.S. Open for removing her shirt on the court sidelines. Well, that is how the story I read titled the piece, making out as if Cornet just got up and decided to flash all of Queens with her bare chest. But wait—I watch tennis and it is quite normal that men are always taking off their shirts—with no bra underneath—and this does not cause controversy. Why is Cornet’s body of the U.S. Open’s concern while Novak Djokovic’s nude torso is entirely ignored?
Having returned from a break to discover that her shirt was on inside-out Cornet quickly turned her shirt around, apparently “shocking” the umpire and incurring a code violation for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Is this what shock looks like? Especially in western society where women’s bodies are not only objectified and coerced socially into the absolute minimum of clothing, but where every movement we make is choreographed by rules of conduct: what we should wear to look “stunning” (can we get rid of the red carpet glamour pics?); what we shouldn’t wear to avoid getting raped; what we should wear to the office; what we should and shouldn’t wear to dress our age; and on and on. Women are constantly told what to wear and remarkably men are in possession of Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloakexempting them from public scrutiny.
The good news is that Cornet’s code violation sparked calls for changes to the policy, other players rallied to her support, and the World Tennis Association (WTA) called the code violation “unfair.” And the U.S. Open offered Cornet an apology. Reason seems to have prevailed there. As for Williams, well Queen Serena got back at the French Open by showing up in a tutu throughout her time at the U.S. Open. As one person aptly commented on Twitter: “French Open: The catsuit is inappropriate and does not meet our oppressive, paternalistic standards of femininity. @serenawilliams: Watch me dominate the court in a tutu.” In a few minutes, Serena is up against her sister, Venus, whom I deeply hope is likewise dressed in a tutu.
Women need to talk back to the social and structural pressures which would have us all simultaneously hanging from a pole and covered in a burqa. The enigma of women’s bodies is that they are simultaneously considered dangerous, tempting and in need of being policed and controlled.