Fashion needs to get in shape and keep up with powerful females

The New York Times recently published a piece by Vanessa Friedman titled “When Will Fashion Discover Rhonda Rousey?” It’s short; you should read it, especially if you’re a woman and you enjoy wearing somewhat fashionable clothes. I know I do, at least when I’m not recommending leggings to Refinery29 or wearing gym clothes.

Given Rousey’s latest fight, where she defended her UFC Bantamweight title in Rio against some woman I’d never heard of but who didn’t last very long, it’s no surprise that the Times’ editors selected her name for the title of the piece. Rousey is “hot” right now in the headlines. She’s also a fierce, strong female figure, and I think that rocks.

They also mention tennis stars (and fashionistas in their own right) Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, and “et al.” Who is ‘et al’ anyway, and why aren’t more female athletes listed?

“You’d think designers would be lining up to dress [them],” writes Friedman. I agree.

Why don’t designers care about strong, powerful and beautiful female athletes?

I’m 5’2″ and athletic. Strong. Petite but thick. Small but mighty. Built tough. Powerful. Beautiful. All the above. I’m not perfect, but I feel very connected to a movement of women who embrace and respect their bodies for what they accomplish and the physical possibilities that lie ahead – NOT primarily for what they look like on the outside. (I speak about performance and aesthetics here.)

When I think about the fashion industry, models and what magazines portray, it makes me laugh, because it’s the complete opposite, and in being so, I might argue that it’s not very feminine or beautiful at all.

Let’s face it: all women want to feel and look beautiful, and wear gorgeous clothes; not just the skinny ones. And there are a heck of a lot more “real” women walking around than there are models or famous people.

If I’m being honest, it used to make me angry. Years ago, when I was growing into and learning to accept my body, it would be frustrating when certain styles, designers or sizes simply didn’t fit me. Why couldn’t I wear what I saw other girls around me wearing? It took many years and many horrible, horrible outfits to learn a smart lesson: I don’t necessarily want to fit into those clothes. I want clothes that enhance and accentuate my curves in all the right places.

Now, a bit wiser and keener to the ways of the world (and how to select the right sizes and properly outfit my closet), I realize that the fashion industry portrays one image: thin, lanky and (IMO) sickly women who function more as clothes hangers than actual feminine bodies. (Malnutrition and eating disorders simply aren’t sexy or healthy, obviously. Again, my opinion. But notice how they don’t show a photo with this particular NYT piece.)

Again, is fashion even portraying a feminine image at all? Fashion wants to showcase just that: fashion. It’s never so much about the models, but rather the clothes.

When I think about fashion designers, runways and red carpets come to mind, usually of movie premiers and one E.G.O.T. ceremony or another. (“Who are you wearing?!”) Everyone seems to care what famous actresses are wearing. Everyone seems to care what the trashy Kardashians are wearing (including Caitlyn Jenner).

Well, I do not care.

What I DO care about are women who actually serve as role models to young people and who can teach future generations (and current ones) a thing or two. I care about beautiful, strong, real women who don’t hide or Photoshop their flaws. They embrace them, and their bodies are celebrated because they’ve accomplished some pretty (pun intended) incredible feats.

Imagine a world where what you see on the runway or on those women in the media is something you could realistically wear. I want to know what dress Serena Williams had on at the Wimbledon Champions’ dinner because I thought it was stunning, and I feel like it’s something I could actually wear.

Friedman writes: “It would also do something for the [fashion] industry’s image to work with women who value strength and health over skinniness and youth; to demonstrate that their clothes make everyone look good, regardless of biceps size. And it would give real integrity to any foray into activewear, or sport-to-lunch wear, to have an actual athlete wearing the clothes.”

I could not agree more. And while some female athletes don’t do our movement any good (see ESPN’s The Body Issue and read which athlete doesn’t lift because she doesn’t want to “get big”), the majority of powerful female women are embracing their bodies and letting other women know it’s OK – you can love yourself AND better yourself simultaneously.

Now that’s the stuff of little girls’ dreams. Or big girls.

Brooke Ence

Photo from CrossFit’s Facebook Page; female athlete Brooke Ence during the 2015 California Regional

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