Shaw: Serena Williams’ bodysuit ban is a violation of women’s autonomy in the workplace

Bernard Giudicelli’s ban on Serena Williams’ bodysuit illustrates that sexism and micro aggressions still run rampant in the conservative atmosphere of professional tennis.


Serena Williams (USA) during her first round at the 2018 U.S. Open at Billie Jean National Tennis Center in New York City on Aug. 27, 2018. (Corinne Dubreuil/Abaca Press/TNS)

Nichole Shaw, Opinion Columnist

French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli told Tennis Magazine on Aug. 24 that Serena Williams’ famous bodysuit would not be permitted for wear at the French Open because of its disrespect to the game.

Tennis is notoriously known as the sport that consistently creates conflict in its dress code. In a professional sport, there obviously must be a dress code, but the constraining limitations of these dress codes are crippling in their conservative requirements. This is a moment in which we can blatantly see men in power once again manipulating the autonomy of women’s dress in the workplace.

Discrimination against Williams is glaringly obvious in the French Open’s prohibition of her black bodysuit. She initially wore the suit at the French Open to prevent blood clots after her difficult pregnancy. The suit was specifically designed by Nike to keep blood flow rushing. If Giudicelli knew about Williams’ health issues regarding long withstanding blood clots after her tough pregnancy, this ban is an ethical problem. For a professional outfit not to be allowed because it’s distasteful to the conservative nature of the game is ethically alarming and problematic.

Williams responded Aug. 25 to the backlash Giudicelli received after his decision to ban the suit, stating “the Grand Slams have a right to do what they want to do.” She further commented that she was sure they would make exceptions for health concerns should they be presented and went on to praise Giudicelli as a wonderful president. While Williams’ playing down the ban on her catsuit was good PR, her comments pose a bigger problem in devaluing the dangerous implications that bans such as this have on tennis dress code and its ugly biases and double standards in the work space.

Giudicelli said the catsuit was disrespectful to the game. How so? Is it disrespectful because Williams is a woman with curves? Is it because she is a black woman with curves? How is the spandex-like material more disrespectful to the integrity of the game than the mini skirts Romanian player Simona Halep and many others wear? Williams definitively covers more of her skin with this bodysuit that helps prevent blood clots in comparison with the short skirts that other female players wear.

Women should be allowed to wear what they want because they should be able to decide how to present themselves as long as they’re comfortable. And if players are allowed to wear short skirts showing lots of leg, Williams should be able to wear apparel that covers most of her body. There is a clear micro aggression toward black women with curves and what they can wear in comparison with other female players.

The social commentary on the bodysuit ban has become a much bigger issue. It has brought to light the consistent history of tennis policing women’s bodies with what they are restricted to wearing in the workplace. Women are consistently asked to put on shorts or skirts over leggings at their jobs, which is extremely uncomfortable and outrageous. Leggings are pants. Yes, they show off the curves of a female body, but so do the tank tops and shorts or skirts that are worn all the time in professional tournaments. The conservative vision needs to change. It is not just a rude demand but a disrespectful policing of a woman’s body and what she chooses to wear to work.

This talk needs to be larger than just dress code at the French Open. The blatant sexism and micro aggressions must be addressed and codes must be changed to accommodate the diversity of players doing their jobs. The strike against women and their ability to have autonomous control over what they wear in their work space ends now.

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