While everyone is rightly celebrating the #blackgirlmagic that Serena Williams so effortlessly displayed with her braided updo — cornrows and Senegalese twists — at the royal wedding this past weekend, I am reminded that she and her sister Venus were criticized for wearing beaded braids when they entered the professional tennis circuit as teenagers in the mid-1990s.
Serena and Venus Williams literally turned heads when they debuted their signature braids on the court. While their competitors sported ponytails, this sister-sister combo sported beaded braids secured with aluminum foil, a staple hairstyle in their Compton, California community and the larger African American community. Their seemingly innocuous hair choice enraged the tennis community while simultaneously inspiring a generation of black kids to take up tennis as a sport.
This was twenty years ago, before the rise of the natural hair movement and its accompanying #naturalista and #teamnatural declarations, before black beauty was (finally) applauded in mainstream media.
When Serena stepped into the professional tennis scene, it was blindingly white while she (as well as her outspoken father), were unapologetically black. She has flaunted her blackness— not just in how she presents her hair — but in what she wears on the court and how she celebrates wins.
While their tennis contemporaries dressed in crisp white skirts and pastel colored sports tanks, the Williams sisters, and Serena in particular, showcased bold colors and leopard prints. Serena wore black shoes with pink laces in lieu of traditional white shoes; played in partially sheer ensembles; and flaunted straight-up body suits that hugged her muscular curves.
Despite the criticism surrounding her on-court fashion choices, Serena continued to display her effervescent style. She even created her own fashion collection, to the chagrin of critics who argued that she should focus solely on her tennis game.
The multi-talented Serena has managed to excel in her business and win 39 Grand Slam titles and 4 Olympic gold medals. Today many laud her as the greatest woman of athlete of all time, if not the greatest athlete ever.
Her countless grand slam fashion moves are wins that she gladly celebrates, but hardly needs.
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