Dina Asher-Smith On Feminism And Fashion: ‘I’ve Never Felt Like I’ve Had To Prove My Femininity’

As Told To Katie O'Malley
·5-min read
Photo credit: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis - Getty Images

From ELLE

My mum likes to claim that the whole reason I got involved in fashion is because I was the best dressed toddler around. Baby photos show me dolled up in dresses with matching boots and white frilly socks. While my friends would be covered in chocolate with shoes hanging off their feet, I’d be sat pristine like a doll. I was that child.

Photo credit: .
Photo credit: .

As I grew older, I became obsessed with Doodles that lit up, Heelys roller shoes and colourful beads in my hair – a common accessory for little Black girls. From as young as I can remember, fashion has always been a joyful experience - a source of fun, empowerment and pride.

As I’ve dipped my toe in the fashion industry over the years, I’ve been reminded how it’s not so much what you wear, rather how and why you wear something that matters. From sitting FROW at London Fashion Week and walking in Virgil Abloh’s Off-White 2019 show, to starring in Louis Vuitton’s AW20 campaign and wearing designs by the likes of Turkish-British designer Dilara Findikoglu and the Italian brand Ermanno Scervino, it’s empowering to represent sportswomen in a different industry.

Sport has so many positive role models with incredible stories of human achievement and endurance. They are people who go up against the odds and come out winning. Fashion is an incredibly influential business with a powerful microphone to help athletes like me encourage more women to get into sport and for them to see a diverse range of role models that I didn’t see growing up.

During my childhood, the media didn't show anyone who looked like me, with my hair type and skin tone. When I look back at that time, I remember how alike my dolls looked. When you’re a child, you don’t think much of this - you make a doll cook and dress up, irrespective of its appearance. But when you get older and start to question what it means to be a woman or man in this country you cling to inspiration, which is why it’s so important different body types are visible.

When I first saw the doll Barbie had created in my likeness in 2019, I was so happy to see one that reflected me, with the right hair texture, skin tone and muscles; a strong and powerful woman.

I’ve never felt like I’ve had to prove my femininity. We're at a point with visibility where we're coming to a turn. Whether it’s taking note from the trans movement or body positivity, thanks to the likes of models Paloma Elsesser, Ashley Graham and Precious Lee, the conversation about body types and gender norms across the spectrum is being reassessed. But we need to make sure that muscular, strong girls are part of the conversation. Not everyone needs to get a six pack, but we have a responsibility to show the world that there’s no one way to be a woman, man or person - you can be as fluid as you like.

In the early days of working in fashion, I was often surprised at how often people would compliment me on my body. ‘Your legs are so strong,’ was a common comment. It was strange, at first, because I’ve never assessed my body for what it looks like, rather what it can do. Over the years, I’ve come to realise how fortunate I am to have grown up with confidence and pride in my body; it’s one that helped me to build a career, travel the world, and represent my country at the Olympic Games.

Sport has the potential to rejig a person’s self-esteem. If you do a 5km or a marathon in an amazing time, who cares if you're all sweaty?

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Whether it’s the brands you choose to wear or how you wear them, fashion speaks volumes about your values, ethics, and identity. I train six days a week, 48 weeks a year. My time is precious so if I choose to work with a brand, like Bulgari, it has to mean something. If a company says it wants to change somebody else's life, or have a conversation around representing sportswomen and help women to feel more confident, I take note. It’s a chance for me to shed light on a wider conversation that’s bigger than me, like the amazing work Southall Black Sisters have done for more than 40 years in helping women who have suffered domestic abuse and repatriating British women who have been sent to 'correctional' centres. We often look to actors, singers and sportswomen as role models but I hope the pandemic has shown the world that real heroes are those who save lives on a daily basis.

Photo credit: Matthias Hangst - Getty Images
Photo credit: Matthias Hangst - Getty Images

Feminism isn’t just about having the freedom to choose to do what you want, but having the opportunities to be whoever you want, uninhibited by gender, race, sexual orientation, age – anything. That’s why I’ve long respected the likes of Lady Gaga and FKA Twigs – women who don’t conform to trends, care what people say about them or wear the latest 'must-have' branded accessory. I love women who are unapologetically themselves, comfortable in their own skin and say: 'This is who I am'. Hopefully we'll get to a point in the near future where everyone has this freedom. Until then, it's our job to push for it.

To mark the launch of the new customisable BVLGARI BVLGARI necklace this March, Bvlgari has partnered with Dina Asher-Smith, who will gift 10% of the proceeds from this necklace to women’s charity, Southall Black Sisters.

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