Dix Pix: Ivy Park crosses athleisure's racial boundary

by Peyton Dix / Beacon Correspondent • April 6, 2016

If “Formation” didn’t bless us enough, Queen B has just upped the ante yet again by co-founding a 200-piece activewear collection, entitled Ivy Parkset to release in mid-April in Topshop and Nordstrom stores. The music mogul’s athletic wear line is far beyond just a new name. It’s intelligent, intentional, and deeply rooted in the advancement of women’s health. The designs lend themselves to benefitting women, specifically women of color, by showcasing the apparel on mostly black bodies and keeping the price in a margin that includes a broader socioeconomic class. By doing so, Beyoncé further establishes herself as an advocate for women’s health, filling a void in the wellness care and product industry, and drawing attention to great economic and social gaps between health for white and mostly upper-class women, and those of color. 

If Beyoncé is behind something, it is naturally assumed that the work put into it will be just as dynamic as she is. In an exclusive interview with Elle magazine, Beyoncé discusses her new line, saying, “It's not about perfection. It's about purpose. Women have to take the time to focus on our mental health—take time for self, for the spiritual, without feeling guilty or selfish.” Beyoncé is combating the notion that women should apologize for putting themselves and their needs first. It is time to recognize it is neither greedy nor self-centered to do just that. All women should be doing so unapologetically.

Exercise is proven to alleviate symptoms of low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Both of these aforementioned symptoms are ones women, especially those of color, feel or are forced to feel on a regular basis. The latter is especially poignant, considering the capitalist standard of beauty and the wide range of those who don’t fit into its narrow description. The Women’s Sports Foundation found that women who exercise weigh less, and have lower levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Additionally, it reported that active women are happier, believe they have more energy, and feel they are in excellent health more often than those who don’t exercise. Emphasizing that Ivy Park is a brand fundamentally grounded in the forwarding of both physical and mental health is not only necessary, but validating. 

The promotional video itself reads like a PSA for mental health. The viewer follows Beyoncé and her female counterparts as they put her apparel to use, while listening to the artist remark on her time growing up and working out in the park from her childhood. She recounts running with her father, saying, “I remember wanting to stop, but I would push myself to keep going.” She later continues, “I would look at the beauty around me, the sunshine, the trees. I would keep breathing. There are things I’m still afraid of. When I have to conquer those things I still go back to the park.”

Many publications have referred to the line as “athleisure” wear, but the brand is self-described as performance wear. Obviously these terms are similar in nature, but “athleisure” is one more suited for middle- to upper-class white women—those who can afford to Eat, Pray, Love their way around the world. Stop reading this article, open a new browser, Google “yoga,” and try to find images of a black woman in your search results. Now that five minutes have passed, please continue to read: I say “yoga” because it’s a popular exercise that focuses equally on both bettering your body and your mind. And yet it seems to only be catered to a class and race that can afford the leisure time to find some peace of mind. The makeup of most gyms in the middle of the day tends to be white, upper-class women who have the luxury to take days off of work or not work at all, to maintain their fit physique. Advertisements and exercise companies are aware of this and cater toward this niche market, excluding those who need it more but have less time and smaller incomes. By pricing the clothing between $30–$200 and using her brown face as the focal point for this brand, Beyoncé is directly addressing the women who look like her, making the clothing accessible.   

Nia Hamm wrote in a Huffington Post article, “Because blacks, particularly black women, experience higher rates of depression than their white female or black male counterparts, but receive lower rates of treatment for depression—specifically adequate treatment—they remain one of the most undertreated groups for depression in the United States.” The question is not why black women have higher rates of depression (cc: White America), it is why black women are constantly excluded from the conversation. Black women are so often oppressed and stigmatized that it makes perfect sense for the level of mental illnesses to be higher in this group, but even after acknowledging that fact, little is being done to flip this narrative. There is this fictitious idea projected into mainstream media that things like depression and anxiety can only affect the “manic pixie dream girls” who fill our television screens. This line calls to attention the bettering of the black female body, which therefore shifts our attention to the maintenance of physical and mental health in a community that needs it the most. 

By highlighting herself and other strong black women, Beyoncé is starting to promote the idea and dialogue that women of color should, too, be focusing on their physical and mental health—whether or not they are sporting Lululemon or brand-new Nikes.