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Grind Till You Own It: Beyoncé’s Body Feminism and New Activewear Line, IVY PARK

Ivy Park, Beyonce on basketball courtA pretty good wellness indicator might be to try to keep pace with the dance moves in a Beyoncé video. We suggest “7/11” or “Single Ladies,” but perhaps start with the choreography in “Flawless” or “Diva” sans stilettos. Watching the singer drop it in 6-inch heels, bounce back, then gyrate and seemingly strut up walls is to witness enviable human stamina and coordination in three minutes of combined viewing and listening pleasure.

No doubt Beyoncé is fit. And it isn’t just the version of fitness that’s measured in low body fat and how one (usually a feminine one) looks in a swimsuit. Beyoncé’s body is strong, capable, sexual, able to accomplish complicated rhythmic maneuvers at will. She is an Olympian on the concert stage—and the possessor of more leotards than the entire 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team.

And now you can strut a mile in her spandex. IVY PARK, a joint venture of Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment and Topshop, will debut on April 14 at Nordstrom. With the tag line “Strong Beyond Measure,” IVY PARK attests to Beyoncé’s unique capability to make everything she touches culturally significant. Those three words are about empowerment, not about losing a dress size.

Speaking (as she rarely does to media anymore) in ELLE magazine about her new activewear collection, the pop icon explained the thoughtful construction that went into making comfortable workout clothes for female bodies:

“There’s an invisible underlining in our garments that sucks you in and lifts your bottom so that when you’re on a bike, or when you’re running or jumping, you don’t feel that extra reverb. And there are little things, like where a top hits under your arms, and all of the areas on a woman’s body we’re constantly working on. I was so specific about the things I feel I need in a garment as a curvy woman, and just as a woman in general, so you feel safe and covered but also sexy.”

Just like that, Beyoncé seems to have petitioned the fashion community on behalf of every woman. Make clothes that feel sexy but safe; make clothes that address and flatter the areas all women—curvy and thin—fixate on: arms, bottom, thighs, stomach, breasts. Until now, most of us didn’t even have the vocabulary to express the bizarre physical sensation of bootie reverb—an involuntary twerk? Beyoncé is talking about it and she’s dressing for it.

IVY PARK’s pieces look immensely wearable on an array of bodies, including Bey’s own. Ever the master of image—she invented the “visual album”—Beyoncé is the label’s spokesmodel. She’s already been speaking out. On her 2013 self-titled album, fans heard her confront dangerous perfectionism on “Pretty Hurts” and a post-baby self on “Mine.” She has openly addressed her own body struggles in the press. In the ELLE interview, when asked about perfectionism, she said, “It’s really about changing the conversation. It’s not about perfection. It’s about purpose.”

When it comes to starting conversations, no contemporary artist—not you, Kanye—uses words and images so powerfully or elicits controversy as gracefully—definitely not you, Kanye. With a video drop for “Formation” and a Super Bowl halftime performance, Bey connected Black Power with Black victimhood. (Her comments on the controversy in ELLE are enlightened: “If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me.”)

One of the most talked about portions of her immensely popular and widely acclaimed 2013 album was a small section on “Flawless” where the artist sampled part of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on feminism. That part begins, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.” Women shrinking themselves physically and mentally to be less threatening is a common theme of feminist literature, from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (“shrinking from trials calculated to strengthen their minds, they only exert themselves to give their defects a graceful covering”) to a poetry slam contestant whose thoughts on the subject went viral.

Her treatment of that song in live performance includes projecting the word “feminist” on international stadium screens while wearing a helmet like Pallas Athena’s, with a Versace leotard featuring the label’s iconic Medusa head just like the protectant aegis worn by Pallas (the goddess of war and wisdom) in Greek mythology. Clearly the artist is not shrinking from her feminist stance or desire to empower women. And it’s a calling that demands a badass uniform.

Maybe in 2016 a feminist act is wearing a killer sports bra, not burning one.


—Britt Olson