3 Ways Female Athletes Are Rebranding And Redefining Style

by Sarah Merekar

Misty Copeland, Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey are all names that represent a heady combination of recognition, inspiration and grit in the hearts of women everywhere.

We follow their stats and their stories for more than simple distraction or entertainment. We look beyond their art. We look to the lifestyles and ethics that fuel them. We look to the bodies they achieve as a result of these same lifestyles and ethics.

In a way, their choices are their distinct and personal fashions, their signature styles.

Fashion is being turned on its head, and it's about damn time. Fashion is not simply about what you wear. It's about the choices you make that support your ethics. Fashion is a lifestyle; it's a mindset.

As a collective culture, we're moving from a surface understanding of beauty and fashion to a deeper, internal inquisition and reframing.

Who are the women in our media representing us? Why is it their representation still lacks authenticity?

When you or I look around, are these the women we see — visually and style-wise — in our everyday lives? Can we come to terms with our bodies and celebrate them?

By placing an emphasis on female athletes as true icons of style, this is what the fashion world is daring to ask today.

What we're witnessing is nothing more or less than a complete rebranding of the very definition of “fashion.” We're moving from simply being delivered definitions of what we should aspire to, to actually dictating and creating what we want.

We're looking for authentic ways to exist and express ourselves.

Decades upon decades of post-industrial wish-fulfillment and advertisements have translated into passivity, direction and consumption.

Now, we want a voice. We want to tell, direct and express.

Framed in this way, it's easy to see fashion is a performance. It's an eternal dance, a constant balancing act between stillness and movement. After all, nothing in fashion remains the same from season to season, but the important fundamentals return as classics.

They are untouched by time, and they express what is truly essential.

And who does this better than our female athletes?

Athletes are real.

Despite the fact most athletes exist for us on a screen, separated by a court, a stage or televised commentariat, they are accessible to us on a level that seems to defy this physical boundary.

Athletes and their struggles are real, and the choices they make are ones we recognize and face ourselves. The questions they ponder on a daily basis are the ones we encounter in our own lives.

They make real choices based on real opportunity costs, and they often forgo the instant gratification for a greater payout in the future (winning).

Embracing female athletes as realistic representations of what we should aspire to makes the fashion they embody incredibly relevant and representative of the lives we live.

We are no longer content being shown what to consume. Instead, we want to create, from the ground up, authentic alternatives to the definitions of beauty and femininity.

We're not only starting to demand fashion be emblematic of us, but we're actually creating the avenues to do so by embracing female athletes.

Athletes articulate achievable results.

Yes, we're looking for more progressive and authentic ways to connect with each other and express ourselves through fashion. But what athletes also give us is not only accessibility, relevancy or authenticity; they actually set a new standard for us through their actions.

They articulate what is possible when a mindset of development and excellence is at the forefront of every decision we make.

Their results are achievable and scalable because anyone can undertake them -- anyone, that is, who embodies the same willingness to work daily toward a singular goal.

This is what female athletes tell us with their victories and embracing their achievements as part of worn fashion translates their results into something we can similarly embody.

It's why the coveted value of a Valentino gown is culturally greater: His creation embodies an ethic, not simply a trend.

Trends come and go, but fashion as a lifestyle choice and a supporting ethic signifies to all who recognize a Valentino gown, for example, the kind of ethics that you the wearer, by extension, prize: excellence, design, beauty and skill.

Female athletes give us something new and something more to store our cultural significations by: persistence, patience, excellence, bootstrapping, self-development.

Female athletes have had to overcome adversity and sexual stereotyping.

Fashion is a way for individuals — male, female and all identities in-between — to celebrate their bodies and to defy the expectations that collective culture places on these bodies.

Fashion for the Williams sisters, for example, became a way to start a conversation. They could express their personalities in a setting where their beliefs might otherwise go unnoticed, in favor of their performance.

It also earned them a whole slew of bad press, with reporters describing their bodies as "masculine" and their skills as "crushing it."

Can we have a more nuanced language for describing women's bodies?

Ostensibly, fashion does exactly this. In a non-verbal way, worn fashion expresses what we, as women, wish to agree with, as well as defy. We make a statement when we decide what to wear.

Female athletes are particularly contentious in this respect. They have had to overcome the physical duress of training for their skills, and the accompanied sexual commentary and limiting stereotypes.

These restrictive modifiers are then placed on the same bodies that give us the athletic performance we cheer them on for.

This is both counter-intuitive and absurd.

When fashion replaces its icons with female athletes, it is giving value to the kinds of unique adversity only females can face.

It also opens up a debate over the reasons why we place such limiting language upon the women we aspire to become, as well as the women in our everyday lives.

Fashion is always relevant. It continually articulates our collective culture's desires.

But, when we choose to embrace female athletes and their hard-won bodies as part of the definition of fashion, we don't simply reframe what fashion means. We reframe what it means to be a woman.