Stylist’s fashion news editor Billie Bhatia hails Nike’s latest move to make all women included in sport.
“Billie tries very hard.” Year after year those were the only remarks left in my primary school report by my ballet teacher. My classmates leapt into the air, a vision of pink froth, politely landing on the gym floor in a faultless plié. Sporting considerably more chunk, my feet would fly all of an inch above the floor, before me and my home-made tutu thumped unceremoniously to the ground. All whilst involuntarily boasting what can only be described as side boob. At age seven.
Aged eight, I was encouraged to no longer attend ballet. Honestly the humiliation of not looking like, dressing like, or dancing like the other girls meant this came as sweet relief.
Wipe those tears, this was not the end of my sporting career.
Turns out, those that can’t jump, hit. Squash balls, rounders balls, hockey balls, tennis balls, netballs, there wasn’t a hand-to-eye sport that I couldn’t do. Granted I was over-zealous - “In the lines please Billie,” was a frequent phrase - but I was no longer presumed useless at sport because I was fat.
Heed my words: never underestimate the fat kid for they have the most to prove.
Though I was crowned Leicestershire’s under 19 squash champion, I didn’t take the sport seriously at university. To be on the first team I had to look the part, and I didn’t fit the kit. Instead I wore the only pair of leggings I could find in my size (Primark, baggy at the knees and almost transparent on the bum) with a plain tee and robed the Leeds University jacket over my shoulders.
Let’s skip a few more years. It’s 2012. I’ve gained a considerable amount of weight. It’s time to tackle the gym. But, what to wear? The brands everyone else is sporting don’t go above a size 14, because fat people don’t work out, obviously.
How will a pair of crap, performance-lacking leggings and a non-branded, non-breathable t-shirt aid me in my quest for fitness? Why was my sports bra so deeply uncomfortable it rolled up at the sides, and why didn’t it reduce bounce at all? And worse, what will people think when they see me in it? I was back to being a ballerina misfit once more. I threw the towel in to avoid ridicule.
And yet, while I sat on the metaphorical bench, a plus-sized athleisure revolution has grown on social media. People like Jada Sezar and Ashley Graham prove you can do sport at any size. What’s more, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Reebok et al finally realised exercise is for everyone and everyone deserves to look and feel good doing it.
Why? Firstly, it’s capitalism: brands can sell more product. Secondly, it’s practical: the natural stretch of their fabric makes it easy to extend their sizing range. Thirdly, brand messaging: encouraging more people to exercise is a good ethos for sports brands.
Just this week Nike launched a brand-new womenswear floor in their flagship Oxford Street store ‘Niketown London’. Marking a retail space created exclusively for women, the floor comes just in time for a huge summer of sport for women’s football (supported by Nike’s ‘Dream Further’ campaign), netball, athletics and more.
The most exciting part of Nike’s new retail space? The mannequins. In a celebration of the diversity and inclusivity of sport, the space will show Nike plus size and para-sport mannequins for the first time. For women of all ages, abilities and sizes to walk into what can be an intimidating space and find something they can not only relate to but engage with in the knowledge that they are included to is a powerful moment.
Who knew a tick could make you feel so proud? Exercising in kit that truly fits gives me a sense of validation. I feel like I belong in a dance studio, a spin class, a gym. The emotional impact of feeling comfortable, supported, feeling part of the same team as everyone else, is huge. I’m not worried my top will ride up, or that when I squat everyone will see my underwear.
So now that the kit fits, don’t be shocked that a plus-size woman is able to lift into a yoga crow, or that women without washboard stomachs and thigh gaps are able to complete marathons. Just because you can’t see someone’s strength, dedication, discipline and skill doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And don’t be surprised when I beat you at squash, in my Nike leggings.
Images: courtesy of Nike / Instagram / Moeez Ali / Kate Davis-Macleod