Beauty and Women’s Basketball Gets a Long Overdue Revamp

Girls and women of color are changing the game when it comes to their physical appearance on and off the court.

angel reese
Photo Credit: Angel Reese on Instagram; Artwork: Joy Adaeze

Damn, girl. I didn’t know Nike made dresses.

This classic line from the now iconic 2000 film, Love & Basketball, was funny (to most) when the movie was first released. Shawnee, played by Gabrielle Union, attempted to clown Monica, played by Sanaa Lathan, by suggesting that she was shocked Monica, an avid high school basketball player and the star of her school’s girl team, was able to get glammed up for their senior prom. 

24 years later, we all know Nike makes dresses—fly ones at that. And we also know that the stereotype of female athletes, basketball players specifically, lacking a strong sense of style, not putting an effort into their physical appearance including hair, makeup, and nails, and not wanting to wear dresses is outdated. And quite lame.

Beauty and the Ball

Welcome to 2024. This is a time when female  athletes dress to impress on and off the court—if they choose. Hair done, nails done…everything did. Now first things first: No girl or woman is required to get glammed up for anyone at any time. That’s just as lame as the former narrative. However it is refreshing to see young women athletes take agency over their lives in this way. The current crop of top girls high school and women’s college basketball players are balling their hearts out all while serving a lewk and we are here for it all! 

Need proof? Take the Bayou Barbie also known as Angel Reese as a prime example.

The former Louisiana State University forward is excitedly heading to the professional Chicago Sky team and was the #7 pick in this year’s WNBA draft. The 21 year-old Baltimore native made headlines for her powerful basketball skills and bold style. 

Reese is known for long false lashes, intricate nail designs, and long wavy tresses (perhaps achieved with weaves or wigs but that’s none of our business)—complete with baby hair laid, of course. 

We also love to see players like Rori Harmon, a guard at the University of Texas rocking a head full of gorgeous ringlets and proudly sporting her natural hair. Kamilla Cardoso, a powerhouse center from the University of South Carolina Gamecocks who was selected in the 3rd slot by Chicago Sky in this year’s WNBA draft, keeps her long curly hair in an array of creative styles from bold burgundy hues to butt-length braids. Cardoso also nearly broke the Internet last year with sexy bathing suit photos. Then there’s Juju Watkins, the University of Southern California guard who famously keeps her curly strands in a tight high bun when defending the Trojans on the court. While her style of bun is pretty commonplace to Black and Brown girls from the streets of Compton all the way to Harlem, it has garnered quite the chatter from mainstream media outlets like Women’s Health and The Washington Post. Yes, really. The blazing USC star even scored an impressive brand deal with cosmetic giant Estée Lauder that has the girls on TikTok going crazy.  

Setting the Example

Even women’s college basketball coaches are getting in on this beauty-full action. Sydney Carter has entered the chat. The former college basketball star for Texas A&M University, WNBA player, assistant women’s basketball coach at Texas A&M, and current Director of Player Development for women’s basketball at The University of Texas unapologetically dresses to the nines with hair and makeup to match. Carter has an hourglass figure and an enviable sense of style. 

The fashion plate doesn’t attempt to dilute who she is in baggy sweats or boxy suits to fit outdated societal norms. Carter, who has close to two million followers on Instagram and TikTok combined, once told YahooLife, “I think people are uncomfortable with a Black woman being in a power position.” 

She added that for some, “When you see a Black woman who is actually confident and embracing herself, that’s very intimidating.”  She continued, “I’m not gonna…turn my light off because somebody else is offended or intimidated by the fact that I embrace myself. I wasn’t trying to kick down any barriers. At the end of the day, I wasn’t trying to set a trend. I just wanted to be myself.” 

She rounded out these sentiments with a passionate post on her Instagram page.

Raising the Bar

Collectively, we want to root for these girls and women who are stepping out on faith to express their personal style despite what others might think or say. And most importantly, they are doing it while making history (We see you Dawn Staley in your Louis Vuitton ‘fits!) and setting new standards for the sport. Specifically in the area of women’s college basketball. 

In the most recent March Madness games, South Carolina’s win over Iowa drew 18.7 million viewers, more than any basketball game (men’s or women’s and college or professional) since 2019 according to ESPN, and the most viewership ever for a women’s college basketball game. Not to be forgotten is the very important fact that these are student athletes. 

There is an extremely high level of resilience, focus, and discipline required to excel in college basketball at a D1 institution. Sure these young women are talented, but it takes more than talent to create the kind of excitement around the game that they’ve brought. 

For those who assume all college athletes have an easy ride, meet Joyce Edwards, a signee for the South Carolina Gamecocks. A forward who was named the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Edwards is also a serious scholar. The elite player who prioritizes her academics, made the final decision to join the Gamecocks only after Staley convinced South Carolina to create environmental engineering as a major at the school just for Edwards.

The value of self-expression is ultimately what this is all about— it is much bigger than basketball or false eyelashes. Case in point: Aaliyah Edwards. The former University of Connecticut forward gained popularity while wearing long purple and yellow box braids in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. 

Off the Court

Women of color are consistently devalued from the boardroom to the locker room. The microaggressions about our hair, our curves, the ways we dress to accent those curves, our overall swag—we know this is part of a much bigger challenge women of color face whether they play/coach basketball or are an executive at a major corporation. Even if we aren’t basketball fans, we see a little bit (or a lot) of ourselves, our daughters, our aunts, and our moms in Angel Reese and Dawn Staley. 

May we all realize the power to create positive change we innately possess in our schools, on our jobs, and in our communities, and to dispel archaic (and dangerous) beauty standards in our own unique way. And let’s have a whole lot of fun while doing it!