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I am a big fan of tennis. It is my favorite summer past time and with the dry weather I have been lucky enough to be able to play a lot this summer. Recently, my love for playing has evolved into an interest in watching professional tennis.
This past week was the Wimbledon finals, the oldest and often considered the most prestigious tennis tournament. This year, Serena Williams, the powerhouse from the US took home the top prize as Wimbledon champion. Unfortunately, instead of celebrating her win, some media outlets choose to comment on her body and those of other athletes in women’s tennis. One New York Times article suggested that female tennis players choose not to have the same muscular body type as Williams because they want to be considered feminine.
Unfortunately, commenting on the bodies and attractiveness of female athletes is not uncommon (nor is it uncommon to comment on women’s bodies in general, athlete or not). In 2013, French tennis player Marion Bartoli was body shamed after her Wimbledon championship win. Hundreds of people on twitter commented on Bartoli’s body and attractiveness in a negative way.
What does this say about how we view female athletes (and women in general) in our society? It suggests that women must still fit within what is considered an “ideal” body type. One that is feminine, small, and attractive. Anything outside of this narrow ideal is devalued. In the examples of these female tennis players, their accomplishments seem to be undermined if they do not “fit” within what is considered physically desirable.
This is not the message we want to send to girls and women, whether we are aspiring to be athletes, artists, or creators. Instead of making women’s bodies and attractiveness the topic of conversation, in the case of these athletes, let’s focus on their strength, power, endurance and agility. Let’s encourage ourselves and those around us to value each other for qualities other than what appears on the surface.
Let’s appreciate our bodies for what they can do for us, rather than simply how they look. I certainly won’t be on a competitive tennis circuit anytime soon but I appreciate how my body can help me in many ways, including allowing me to improve my forehand topspin.
For information on body image and self-esteem visit Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorders Prevention Program.