The media obsession with Serena Williams’ body image

I have my dvr set for News One Now with Roland Martin on Tv One. Today they talked about the constant bashing towards Serena Williams when it comes to her body image. Mainstream media and just people in general have a problem with her body. Over the years I have read accusations of steroid use, how she looks manly and other sexist and racist comments. Serena has won 21 Grand Slams and some folks still hate on her. But it seems like the more hate that’s directed her way she just keeps on winning.


The New York Times had an article about how her fellow female tennis players not wanting to bulk up and preferring to stay slim. The tennis coach of Agnieszka Radwanska even stated that he prefers to keep Agnieszka small framed cause she wants to be looked at as a woman.

The Opinion Page at the New York Times responded to the negative reaction the article received.

When The Times’s sports staff gave the green light to an article proposed by a frequent freelancer, Ben Rothenberg, intentions were good. Here was an opportunity to illuminate a pervasive problem in women’s sports, the old and troubling notions of what a female athlete should look like, and to do so through the views of the athletes themselves. Mr. Rothenberg even had the tennis superstar Serena Williams on the record with thoughtful quotes.

Mr. Rothenberg and his editors said they took special pains to make the story balanced and sensitive.

But by Friday afternoon, many readers were aghast. They were calling the article (and even The Times itself) racist and sexist. They were deploring the article’s timing, which focused on body image just when Ms. Williams was triumphing at Wimbledon. The article, they said, harmed progress in bringing equality and recognition to women’s sports — something happening that very day with New York City’s first ticker-tape parade for a team of female athletes, the World Cup champion United States soccer team.

One longtime subscriber, Lisa Leshne, wrote to me: “Why is this even a story? Why does the newspaper feel the need to talk about Serena’s body type? What’s with the obsession over ‘perceived ideal feminine body type?’” From her point of view, “She’s a champion, she’s strong and successful, that’s the story.”

Serena is happy and has accepted who she is. Women aren’t meant to look the same. We all have different body types. Just because a woman isn’t 5’3 and weighs 123 pounds doesn’t mean she isn’t a woman. Why is the media so obsessed with Serena’s body type? Mainstream media seems to have problems when it comes to black women and our bodies. A lot of times it seems like they have problems with black women period.  Remember Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times article about Viola Davis?

As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series “Extant.”

Even Michelle Obama has had mean spirited comments about her body. Seems like if you’re not blond, blue eyed and stick thin with a boyish body mainstream media will attack you like a pit bull.

After Serena’s Wimbledon win last Saturday most folks were praising her. But of course the trolls were out in full force.  One Twitter follower of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowlings made a mean spirited comment towards Serena.  And Ms. Rowlings was prepared to clap back.

Speaking of Serena she was looking like a princess at the Wimbledon Champions Dinner.



Williams showed just how comfortable she is Sunday when she arrived for the Wimbledon champions dinner wearing a peachy dress, with her hair long and straight. Now, if Williams completes the first Grand Slam since Steffi Graf 27 years ago, the next step for her is to become a role model, a real living, breathing, strong role model.

“That is really an important acceptance for some female athletes, that their best body type, their best performance build, is one that is not thin,” Pam Shriver told the Times. “It’s one of power.”

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