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Simone Biles is the best athlete of all time.

Simone Biles on her best night is better than any athlete has ever been at any sport. Ever. Simone Biles on her worst night, like she had at Day One of Nationals this year after putting up three subpar routines for her standards, still ended up in first place by more than two points.

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This is a great article from Slate about the Queen of Athleticism, Simone Biles.

Over the weekend she debuted two new skills at Nationals. On the first night, she landed a double twisting double somersault off the beam, but she flubbed her landing on floor exercise — a triple twisting double somersault that no woman has ever attempted and very few men (zero in the US) can even land.

She stuck it on night two.

Ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary, allow me to introduce you to the tripledouble: a double back somersault with three twists spread out over the two flips. In men’s gymnastics, it’s called the Ri Jong Song, after the North Korean who debuted it at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Among the few male elites who can land this monster is none other than legendary Japanese twister Kenzo Shirai (who can also, impossibly, do it in the layout position). It’s also been competed by gymnastics’ king, 21-time world medalist Kohei Uchimura—who a few weeks ago gushed in Japanese on Twitter about Biles’ technique. Since Biles already has a floor element named in her honor, when she completes the triple double in Stuttgart, in the Women’s Code of Points it will be christened the Biles II. (If you are eager for it, and why wouldn’t you be, there’s a super-slo-mo video.)

(cont. Slate)

Last year I read something from ESPN calling Simone Biles the most dominant athlete in *any* sport (x), and you can’t really argue with that. Simone has won Gold at Nationals six times, and the only reason it wasn’t 7 in a row is because she took a year — an entire year! — off after the Olympics and didn’t compete at all.

For every person who says Roger Federer is the best tennis player, there’s another who says it’s Rafa Nadal (even Novak Djokovic has his supporters).

For every person who says Lebron James is the best player in the NBA right now, there’s another who will say it’s Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or James Harden.

Serena Williams is the closest to Simone’s level, but as she’s shown time and time again, she’s beatable. Even if Serena is playing her best tennis, there are players that can keep up with her.

Simone Biles fell (she almost fell on her face) and still beat the next competitor by over four points. She could have fallen four more times and still won. That’s how dominant Simone Biles is. If she is at the meet, everyone else is aiming for second place. Her competitors say that openly — their goal is second place, because beating Simone Biles is almost inconceivable.

Simone Biles on her best night is better than any athlete has ever been at any sport. Ever. Simone Biles on her worst night, like she had at Day One of Nationals this year after putting up three subpar routines for her standards, still ended up in first place by more than two points.

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Athletes

Why do female gymnasts wear leotards?

Unitards may become more commonplace in the near future.

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Less than three months after the Olympics, the 2021 World Championships took place in Kitakyushu, Japan last week. At the Worlds following an Olympic Games, you would expect to see the next crop of athletes to look for over the next four year cycle. In some cases we did. Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello missed out on competing at Tokyo but took home Silver and Bronze, respectively, in the All-Around. Since this competition was so close to the Games due to the COVID delay for the Olympics, a lot of the athletes who ended up on the podium were holdovers from August. All-Around winner Angelina Melnikova finished third in Tokyo. The Floor Exercise winner Mai Murakami also finished third in Tokyo.

One new bright spot of particular note: There was a full unitard on the podium.

Germany’s Pauline Schäfer placed second on beam at the 2021 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, and she did so while dressed in something rarely seen at women’s gymnastics meets: a unitard. Earlier this year, German gymnasts debuted these long-sleeved, long-legged leotards at the 2021 European Gymnastics Championships, and they wore them in other competitions such as the Tokyo Games.

(cont. Yahoo, UK Style)

This is her routine from podium training, but if I see the scored routine uploaded, I’ll edit the post.

I couldn’t find any other instance of a female gymnast winning a medal wearing a full unitard and I hope this marks a turning point in women’s gymnastics where the athletes feel more comfortable bucking the trend of a leotard and choosing more coverage if that makes them feel more comfortable.

Men’s gymnastics made its debut at the 1896 Olympics, but there was no women’s event for the sport for another 40 years. In 1936, women got their chance to show off their athletic prowess in the sport, but the qualities looked for in judging greatly differed from their male counterparts. Georgia Cervin, former gymnast and author of Degrees of Difficulty: How Women’s Gymnastics Rose to Prominence and Fell from Grace, says, “When the sport was developed for women, they adapted the men’s sport to make it ‘appropriate’ for women. Women were expected to do soft, rhythmic, flowing, graceful movements that emphasized beauty and flexibility. [Men] were expected to emphasize strength instead.” This was a time when intense physical activity was discouraged for women, because their primary job was to bear children and run a household. Medical science of the day thought strenuous exercise negatively impacted fertility.

The remnants of that graceful, feminine requirement are most evident in beam, with its many flourishes, and floor exercise, where women perform to music and men do not. Women were expected to dance and show grace and poise, while men were expected to tumble. After a marked shift in gymnastics in the 1970s, women too are focused on tumbling. Simone Biles performs acrobatics that many men will not attempt, yet she’s expected to smile, dance around, and show how graceful she is in addition to the athletic tumbling now required.

(This is me saying men should be able to perform artistically to music if they want, and women should be able to just do a straight out tumbling routine like the men if they want.)

Anyway, if your job, as an athlete, is to show how graceful and feminine you are, you are performing marriageability and attractiveness. Part of that will be a competition outfit as revealing as cultural norms will allow while also being able to move about.

Material science has progressed and norms have allowed for higher cuts, so now the standard attire for a female gymnast is a high cut leotard that you aren’t even allowed to adjust. (Seriously — there’s a deduction for adjusting your leo, so you can’t even pick a wedgie out of your butt.) I’ve watched gymnastics my entire life and I’ve always known deep in my spirit that if I was a 16-year-old girl, I would not want to be on worldwide television in what amounts to skintight underwear. My best friend was a gymnast growing up and she basically said the same thing — she was uncomfortable wearing them.

The leo isn’t required though. There’s nothing in the code of points that says you have to wear one, so why is it the standard? I asked Bestie this morning if the girls weren’t aware they could opt for a full unitard and this is what she had to say.

Me: I wanna write something about the women’s gymnastics unitards. Did you know back when you were doing gymnastics that you didn’t have to wear a leotard? I feel like most gymnasts don’t even realize it’s an option, or if they do know, it’s so far in the back of their mind they wouldn’t even consider it, because everybody else is wearing a leo.

Bestie: It was never an option to not wear a leotard. Even during practice, like now some can wear the small shorts and such, we weren’t allowed to do that. (But that was all pre and up to 2001 for me.)

I think the hard thing is that when you’re representing the team you have to wear the team leo, and if they don’t even make the unitard version you’re in a tough place. So if you’re on a team, you’d have to run it up the flag pole very early that you want a unitard because I assume it will be more expensive (you pay for your own leos—unless you’re sponsored, I think—and they probably will take longer to make/need to be made custom plus use more material). This could all have changed since though.

I hadn’t thought about the team aspect and that makes perfect sense. You need to look like a unit and, even if you’re uncomfortable in the leo, you might not raise that objection because then you wouldn’t look like a team. The German team all wears the same unitard, because they decided as a unit to eschew the leo, but some gymnasts prefer it. Have you ever wondered why some gymnasts have chalk on their legs, particularly before floor exercise? It’s for the grip. You want to be as tight as possible to complete your rotations in a piked position and the chalk helps you grab your legs. Getting that same grip on a leg covered in fabric takes some adjustment.

Will we see more winners in full coverage like Pauline Schäfer? I think so! Gymnastics as a sport (in the USA particularly) is having a reckoning with sexual assault, and while a leotard doesn’t keep you safe (you can be assaulted in anything, this is not a “well, what was she wearing?” moment), it does put you more firmly on a path of bodily autonomy. Being able to say you’re not comfortable in a garment is an exercise in asserting yourself and claiming ownership over your own physicality. The more we see unitards on the winners podium, the more young girls will opt to train in them, and the more we will see elite athletes who are used to (and more comfortable) competing in them.

It’s all about choice, and Pauline Schäfer’s win is a reminder to female gymnasts that they do actually have a choice in what they wear.

 

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Music

Hot Takes: Queens

Queens is giving us the music *and* the drama.

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*** Mild spoilers, because it’s a TV series, and you can’t really review apilot episode without giving a little info about what it’s about and what’s happening.

1. They had me at girl group. I will watch anything about a girl group, from Popstars to Cheetah Girls to whatever BET was trying to do with Miss Promithes Promithes producing a group of washed up stars from yesteryear. (Sidenote: That show was bonkers, but two of the songs are good: “Skeletons” & “Birds Eye View”)

2. Who is this Nadine lady playing Butter Pecan? I assume she must have smashed the audition process, because she’s been cast alongside three music stars with successful acting careers. Eve, Naturi, and Brandy have all made hits and proven themselves on the small screen, and Nadine/Valeria sticks out to me just a touch. She doesn’t really have the performing stage presence of the other three, so I hope she settles into that a bit better. I guess J.Lo thought she was too big for the role so they got a substitute?

3. Speaking of J.Lo, they really did Nadine dirty with this knock off dress.

4. “Nasty Girl” is not a good song. I do enjoy Swizz Beatz and his bag of tricks so I’m looking forward to the music they roll out, but I really don’t need to hear “Nasty Girl” ever again. Happy that Brandy/B-Rocka is getting her moment as an emcee again though! She stole the whole song from Eve if we’re being honest.

5. Eve has great comedic timing. I’ve missed her doing this. Also a pleasant surprise seeing RonReaco Lee pop up playing her husband, since he wasn’t listed in the cast. We don’t see enough of him these days.

6. The pacing and the cuts for commercial give me Ugly Betty, but the tone and the acting give me Empire, and that’s high praise. Hopefully they can keep the show on the rails.

7. It’s not exactly the series I predicted! I thought we were going to watch a season of episodes where they get ready for a performance, to see if they can do it. Well they did it in one episode, so I guess the show is mostly about their interpersonal relationships and not their ability to perform, which is great! We get the music and the drama.

8. “Hear Me” is a great song. Brandy does not make bad songs.

9. That cypher was hot fire! Everybody’s bars were on point. I assumed Lauren didn’t have the talent to back up her viral fame, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with that character too!

10. Queens had a solid debut. The pilot put in motion enough plotlines to fill a few seasons, not just one, and the cast (save for maybe Nadine) feels organic, like they would all exist in a group together. Some of the acting is a little stilted (I honestly don’t really believe Naturi as a lesbian church lady quite yet…) but they have time to let it gel and really come together. I think they will.

Score: 7.5/10

 

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Celebrities

Billy Porter’s Ego would like for you to know he wore dresses before Harry Styles.

Billy Porter is the latest in a long line of blurred gender lines in fashion.

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Our beloved Harry Styles is in the news because he was minding his business and Billy Porter got salty about it.

I’m mostly joking. I don’t really care that much about Harry Styles (even though! his albums are immaculate), but it’s unfortunate that this necessary conversation has to happen at his expense. Harry Styles is just doing Harry Styles. He doesn’t bother anybody, he’s nice to everybody, and he just wears his little outfits. The praise he receives for those outfits is hyperbolic in relation to any ground that he’s actually breaking, because he’s not doing anything that scores of musicians haven’t done before him. I did not now for sure that Boy George was a man when I was a child. That is groundbreaking non-binary presentation in popular entertainment, not Harry Styles putting on a dress.

Harry Styles has the enormous privilege of being a straight, white, cis male sex symbol who was in a boy band. Anything he does that is counter to what that mold would typically do is going to receive way more praise than that same event would garner if performed by anyone else. That is what Billy Porter is trying to say in this interview with The Sunday Times.

“I feel like the fashion industry has accepted me because they have to. I created the conversation (about non-binary fashion) and yet Vogue still put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover for the first time…I was the first one doing it and now everybody is doing it. I’m not dragging Harry Styles, but… He doesn’t care, he’s just doing it because it’s the thing to do. This is politics for me. This is my life…I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars. All (Styles) has to do is be white and straight.”

Billy Porter is absolutely right. All Harry had to do is be white and be straight, but let’s not make assumptions about what he does and does not care about. Harry himself has said that he’s always liked “fancy dress” from a young kid and his sister, eyewear designer Gemma Styles, says their mother used to dress them both up, but Harry was the one who actually liked it. Harry’s philosophy on style is the same one I have:

“You can never be overdressed. There’s no such thing. The people that I looked up to in music—Prince and David Bowie and Elvis and Freddie Mercury and Elton John—they’re such showmen. As a kid it was completely mind-blowing. Now I’ll put on something that feels really flamboyant, and I don’t feel crazy wearing it. I think if you get something that you feel amazing in, it’s like a superhero outfit. Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with. What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away. When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play. I’ll go in shops sometimes, and I just find myself looking at the women’s clothes thinking they’re amazing. It’s like anything—anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself. There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes. I’ve never really thought too much about what it means—it just becomes this extended part of creating something.”

Is Harry Styles non-binary? No. But gender shouldn’t be boiled down to what clothes you wear, because clothes don’t have a gender. They’re just clothes. I am not non-binary, but I’ve been doing my nails and wearing heels off and on since high school.

That said, I didn’t know who Billy Porter was in high school. I didn’t put on “girls’ clothes” because Billy Porter made it okay to do so. I didn’t realize men could wear “women’s clothes” because Billy Porter opened the door for me. Billy Porter’s ego has erased all of the people who opened the door for him to wear his outfits of varying taste level on a red carpet.

Andre Leon Talley’s shiny muumuus and dramatic capes paved the way for Billy Porter.

B. Scott suing BET for being forced to take their make-up off and sport a ponytail to report on the runway paved the way for Billy Porter.

Miss Jay’s bobs and heels and ruffles on primetime television for ten years paved the way for Billy Porter.

And those are just the ones I identified with. That’s not even touching on Prince’s assless yellow lace awards show performance or Sylvester telling us we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time or Andre J being the first man in a dress on the cover of a high fashion magazine.

This is a lesson in ego muddying your point. You can have the most valid point of view in the word and initiate an overdue conversation that we probably should be having, but if you center yourself, a big chunk of your audience is going to bypass the conversation altogether. Very few people are actually breaking new ground. It is 2021. Somebody came before you. Somebody laid the cobblestones for the path you walk.

Harry Styles is the latest in a long line of glam rockers pushing the boundaries of masculinity. Billy Porter is the latest in a long line of blurred gender lines in fashion. Just because Billy Porter thinks he deserves a Vogue cover doesn’t mean his point is completely off the mark, but he’s not the pioneer he thinks he is.

 

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