Major networks and news stations have erupted once again with headlines featuring Serena Williams. Lately it seems that Williams isn’t being recognized and distinguished for her impressive list of accomplishments from a remarkable tennis career. Instead the focus has been on something that has and will continue to dominate and crush the minds of those who do not fit the mold of the ideal body type that society perceives as beautiful, attractive, and feminine—her physique.
Serena Williams is strong, powerful and fierce. She is muscular, incredibly athletic, and passionate. She has demanded respect on the tennis court by her impressive accomplishments, and has established herself as one of the greatest athletes of all-time.
To me, she is the epitome of a perfect role model. Her career has lasted decades, which means she has fought, battled, and persevered time and time again to rise and remain at the top. She has more Grand Slam titles than any man. But beyond her tennis identity, Serena Williams is no stranger to body-shaming, and has spoken out about it in depth.
Serena Williams continues to be ridiculed for being masculine, not having a ‘woman’s body’, and just straight up called ‘fat’. I know what it’s like to be body-shamed for the way I look. I, too, was harassed for my ‘thunder thighs’ and was told I was more like a boy because of my athletic abilities. Like Williams, I put on a strong front hoping to appear unruffled. But overtime, it hurts. And, for some, like myself, attempt unhealthy behaviors to change it.
I feel compelled to ask—how would these critics like Serena Williams to look, and how do they suggest she attain it? Where I come from people are born with an inherited body type based on genetics and skeletal structure. If they are claiming she should be skinny, there is really only one way to attempt it (besides surgery)—to starve herself or purge. I’ve tried it. I’ve starved myself and developed a significant eating disorder in an attempt to attain a thin body type. Let’s just say the results were frightening.
Not only can athletes face medical complications from malnourishment, but their performance is significantly compromised. Inadequate nutritional intake for athletes can lead to muscle weakness, fatigue, and injury. If Serena Williams were to diet intensely to attain the body she continues to be criticized for, she wouldn’t be the legend, idol, or eminent athlete for which she deserves to only be respected and admired.
Raising healthy, happy daughters has become more challenging. We should be using Serena Williams as an example of a determined, resilient and empowering woman who has achieved great success while dealing with an unworthy amount of adversity. I don’t have a daughter, but for the girls I coach, teach, or get an opportunity to influence, I will work tirelessly to counter society’s fixation on body and beauty, and model body comfort and acceptance—just like Williams. But most importantly, I will stress the importance of needing to feel good about how they look, and not let their looks dominate their sense of self-worth. Serena Williams exemplifies this perfectly. Without differences, this world would be lifeless.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” -Dr. Seuss