Serena Williams recently won her 6th Wimbledon Championship title, reinforcing the argument that she is one of the greatest athletes, female or male, in the world. What she has been able to accomplish on the court is extraordinarily rare, and she shows no indications of slowing down as she continues to break tennis records left and right.
However, instead of focusing on her incredible skills and accomplishments, people insist on making her body the star of the conversation, criticizing her for being too muscular and manly. Her physique shouldn’t diminish or overshadow her achievements, yet that’s exactly what people are doing. Instead of the praise she deserves for her hard work and dedication, she is getting back lash for something as superficial as her appearance.
Professional athletes dedicate their entire lives taking care of their bodies, making sure that they are healthy and in the best physical shape possible. Day in and day out they train and craft their bodies into magnificent machines with the capability of physical achievements that most people could never dream of being able to do. It’s something that should be admired and venerated, and yet people have the audacity to pick apart their bodies for not meeting society’s standards of beauty. Female athletes are highly susceptible to this denigration.
Long, slender, lean, slim, thin – this is what society tells females they should look like. The constant message that “skinny is beautiful” brainwashes even the best of us. Often in disguise, it sneaks into our thoughts, tainting the way we view others and ourselves. Not even the greatest female athletes are immune to the temptation of wanting to conform to our culture’s idealistic views of beauty. Serena Williams has openly discussed her insecurities regarding her muscular and sculpted arms and how she sometimes wears long sleeves when going out in order to cover them.
Many female athletes struggle between wanting to strengthen their bodies in order to optimize their performance, and wanting to have a more “feminine body” since muscles are often deemed as a masculine trait. As a life-long female athlete, I frequently have this battle with myself. On several occasions, I’ve been warned to stay away from lifting heavy weights so that I don’t get too big, and have been told that if I get too muscular and start looking manly, people would stop being my friend.
To that I have one thing to say; my body wasn’t created for the purpose of pleasing other people’s visual preferences, and I couldn’t care less if my appearance doesn’t meet your shallow standards.
I’ve made the decision to work to become the fittest, most athletic version of myself, even if that means having bigger legs, broader shoulders, and being considered less feminine. I may struggle finding jeans that fit and t-shirt sleeves may be tight around my arms, but that’s a small price to pay for the unparalleled feeling of being strong and healthy. Few things are more invigorating or validating than feeling yourself become more powerful and being able to accomplish things your body couldn’t do a few weeks ago.
Society’s standard of beauty is not only superficial, but it’s also limiting. By instilling fear into women of becoming too butch, manly, and therefore unattractive, many females never experience the glory of their full might, and the wonders of what their bodies can achieve. Socrates once said “it is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable”. Apply that quote to women, and no truer words could be spoken.
We need to stop viewing the female body solely in terms of appearance and start appreciating what it facilitates. Encourage women to push physical boundaries and come to know and experience their bodies in a more intimate way than ever before. Abandon the treadmill for a day and pick up some weights. Feel the soreness after a challenging workout and smile knowing that it’s a sign towards self-improvement.
Strength is beautiful. No female should ever be ashamed for being strong or afraid of looking like a man. Take pride in what you’re physically capable of doing. And know that it is not only impressive, but also extremely badass when a girl can perfectly execute military pushups, hoist herself up on a pull-up bar, or in Serena’s case, lift up her 21st Grand Slam trophy.