Body Acceptance, Serena-Style

In case you haven’t heard, Serena Williams – one of the greatest tennis players and athletes of all time – is retiring at this year’s U.S. Open.  While it has been fun to watch all the tributes and matches, it’s been even more exciting to watch her play and WIN at 40 years old! 

Okay, so why am I talking about Serena on a nutrition blog? 

Quite simply, Serena is an unintentional pioneer in weight inclusivity or Health At Every Size® (HAES®). This movement recognizes holistic health and its variability for each individual.  For decades, Serena’s body and weight was openly analyzed and critiqued by the tennis establishment and on-air commentators. Comments about her weight and fitness level were always present, in spite of the fact that she was consistently beating opponents who embodied the more “traditional” svelte tennis player physique.  

While Serena seemed to rise above the criticism, I suspect it must have bothered her. It also likely drove her harder to win and ultimately embrace her physicality. She has consistently said that she has always had a “red X” on her back, meaning that she had to consistently prove herself more than others. Of course, the racism of the historically white U.S. tennis establishment was, and continues to be, a significant factor, but at the same time she has contended with weight bias for decades. The public has maintained an ongoing fascination that a black woman with a curvaceous, muscular physique could be such a superior athlete. I can say that as a tennis fan, every snarky comment about Serena’s size made me love her more.  

Watching this strong, powerful mother continue to beat her younger, smaller opponents demonstrates the inherent weakness in trying to be like everyone else. Yes, the average female tennis player is tall, thin, and white, but who wants to be average? Average isn’t everyone and it isn’t necessarily ideal. Part of Serena’s legacy is that the “ideal tennis body” is a fleeting concept and we are now starting to see players of color and of all shapes and sizes.  

For the rest of us, we can learn that the physical ideal is simply a concept that changes with time and varies with each situation. It’s more important to remember that the things that make you unique are your strengths.  Who cares if your body will never be the ideal body of the moment.  Don’t waste your time and energy trying to be like someone else. 

Be like Serena and honor your body.  There is great joy in finding that peace.   

Serena Williams at the 2019 U.S. Open
Serena Williams at the 2019 U.S. Open

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