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Serena and Venus Williams: Sisters with Different Bodies

Laurie and Debbie say:

We have blogged about the Williams sisters before. But when we read this quote from Serena in an article by sports writer Bruce Jenkins (San Francisco Chronicle), it was time to write about her again. Usually “I’ve never been happier with myself” is a diet ad cliche.  Not this time.

Serena and Venus Williams

The most ridiculous criticism I’ve seen about Serena concerns her weight. Venus is a separate entity in the Williams family. She’s that girl you remember in high school, so trim and composed, and when you showed up at a reunion 20 years later, appalled at the collection of sad-sack mediocrity, there was that one girl, now a grown woman, even more admirable than before.

Serena’s body type falls into pattern with the rest of the women (including half-sisters) in the Williams family. Her entire adult life has been a battle to stay in shape. I was among many who assumed, five or six years ago, that she wouldn’t be long for the tour’s top 20. Now that she has proven everyone wrong (at the end of her epic, nearly three-hour Wimbledon semifinal win against Elena Dementieva, she was charging the net on match point against her), people still can’t quite grasp the truth.

“She’s not fit,” Simon Barnes wrote in the Times of London. “A pie or two has been consumed along the way.” Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock, in a piece as vicious as it was preposterous, wrote that “she’d rather eat” than compete hard in lesser tournaments, that she’s been “grazing at her stall between matches,” and that “she needs a little less butt.”

Nice to have these (male) “experts” offering as fact their uninformed opinions on the body of someone whose physical feats they couldn’t match in a million years.

Well, guess what, everybody, this formidable woman is laying waste to the countryside. Since this time last year, Serena owns three tournament titles – the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Her next major singles title will tie her with Billie Jean King (12) on the all-time list. Forget whatever the tour rankings claim; Serena is No. 1, followed closely by Venus.

“If all I did was play tennis, I’d be burned out by now and out of the game,” Serena said during Wimbledon. “But it’s not to say I don’t work hard at tennis. I’m in better shape than people think I am. I always wanted to look like Venus growing up, that tall, thin body that looks so good in clothes. Sometimes I felt like I hated her because I wanted my body to look like that, and I knew it never would. I’m built different. I have a big butt and chest. I could go without eating for two years and I still wouldn’t be a size two. I finally realized that not everybody’s Mary-Kate (Olsen), and I’ve never been happier with myself.”

Millions of American women need to hear what Serena is saying, in part because it never gets said from a position of power. The concept that women, including sisters, have different basic body types and shapes, that those shapes can all be as healthy as each other, and that you can be a terrific athlete without looking like a supermodel should not be radical. It shouldn’t even be slightly unfamiliar. But it is. And Serena Williams isn’t just a tennis champion: she’s also a truth-teller.

15 Responses to “Serena and Venus Williams: Sisters with Different Bodies”

  1. Lizzy L Says:

    Amen!

  2. Serena and Venus Williams: Sisters with Different Bodies | Ladies of Tennis - News on Your Favourite Tennis Heroes Says:

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  3. lilacsigil Says:

    I find these attacks on Serena particularly ridiculous as she is a professional athlete – her fitness is easily judged by her performance, not her appearance.

    I do, personally, find her very attractive, but I’m not a sports commentator. Whether or not someone finds her attractice should be completely irrelevant to professional commentary, but this year has shown in various ways that for women athletes, appearance is shown to be far more valuable than performance – despite the mighty physical and mental effort that even the lowest-ranked participant has made.

  4. Meems Says:

    All I can do is echo my disbelief at the utterly ridiculous notion that Serena Williams is “not fit.” She is an unbelievable athlete and I love seeing her model athleticism and fitness in a body that doesn’t conform to stereotypical beauty ideals. Millions of women out there are embarrassed by butts and boobs and bellies that they think are too big, but are simply a natural part of how they’re built.

    And you know what? Serena deserves as much pie as she wants.

  5. Body Impolitic – Blog Archive – » Serena and Venus Williams … | planets Says:

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  6. Piffle Says:

    Not fit. *blinks* A winning athelete in a very active sport. Not fit. *boggles*

    Just as an aside, eating is more important that competing in any sport. No food is deadly, not competing isn’t. Foo on you, commentator man.

  7. wriggles Says:

    Well said Serena, her name is becoming increasingly apt. That match with her and Dementieva, was magnificent, both women were physically and mentally inspirational.

  8. Patsy Nevins Says:

    Those idiots! There is not one thing wrong with Serena & she is much more ‘fit’ than those geniuses who see fit to sit in judgment of her. It is no one’s business what or how much she eats & they have no idea even if she eats more or differently than her sister, though it doesn’t matter if she does. I am sure that Venus doesn’t work any harder to maintain her body shape than Serena does to maintain hers, & I think that Serena has a beautiful body; ironically, unlike the majority of women in our insane culture, if I could CHOOSE a body type (which, contrary to what we are told, we CANNOT), I would choose one like Serena’s. And actually, I am a lot closer to Serena’s body than I ever could be to Venus’s. Venus’s body type is so praised & admired precisely BECAUSE it is so rare & totally unattainable for the majority of us. I hope that Venus is comfortable & at home in her body, too, & has a positive self-image, as everyone should, but it is not fair to hold her or any other woman up as a model of what we should ALL aspire to look like, or what any “REAL, SERIOUS, FIT athlete” is going to look like. These so-called ‘journalists’ do not know shit & they are talking out of their asses, but in doing so, they may be doing a lot of women, especially young women, great harm.

  9. TennisFan Says:

    I want to first agree that Mr. Barnes and Mr. Whitlock are totally misinformed in their sports commentary on Serena Williams. Judging by her dominant performance at Wimbledon weeks ago, she is certainly a very fit athlete and possesses a percentage of body fat/muscularity well below/above the general population.

    Additionally, the latter comment equating Serena’s “butt” with less than stellar fitness is a drastic oversimplification. She is not carrying excess weight on her body. Quite the contrary, her butt is a sign of physical superiority.

    More specifically, it equates with excellence in her vocation. Tennis is a game of foot speed (to move to the ball) and power/explosiveness (to generate racket head speed on serves and ground strokes). The large/muscular appearance of Serena’s lower body is, in part, indicative of her superior ability to perform these tasks on the tennis court, especially the latter.

    In the context of tennis, then, it’s not that “you can be a terrific athlete without looking like a supermodel.” Rather, supermodel body types are not successful in competitive tennis situations, at least not since the 1970s; supermodels do not possess explosive lower body strength on the level of professional athletes. Taller professional tennis players–like Maria Sharapova or Venus Williams–certainly do not have supermodel body types. Because they are taller, their muscularity is distributed differently. Yet, just like Serena, they have incredible lower bodies, too.

    And so when I read this blog’s conclusion, and the context in which this comparison between Venus and Serena is made, I am slightly perplexed:

    “Millions of American women need to hear what Serena is saying, in part because it never gets said from a position of power. The concept that women, including sisters, have different basic body types and shapes, that those shapes can all be as healthy as each other, and that you can be a terrific athlete without looking like a supermodel should not be radical.”

    I agree that women are genetically endowed with different body types (Venus and Serena a case in point). I agree that these body shapes (such as V & S) have the potential to be as healthy as each other. And I agree that it isn’t radical that a professional athlete does not look like a supermodel.

    But Serena’s message clashes with some tenets of the size acceptance movement (statistically improbable and unsustainable weight loss/anti-dieting for these reasons). Yes, she is “built different” and has a “big butt and chest” compared with Venus. But we’ve got to be careful in how we qualify these terms in conjunction with Serena’s own level of fitness.

    As she rightly says, and any leg press machine would confirm, “[I]t’s not to say I don’t work hard at tennis. I’m in better shape than people think I am.” I take her at her word. She says she trains hard and is in good shape. This is certainly evident in her healthy appearance–i.e. a generally low percentage of body fat and advanced physicality–and would be proven by any fitness test. Indeed, maybe “[h]er entire adult life has been a battle to stay in shape” (perhaps more so than her sister Venus). But she’s still in better shape than the vast majority of all of us, and I don’t think she would say that she’s naturally disposed to it.

  10. Dexxie Says:

    It is rather strange to me, that in world where there are more than a handful of men toting around cannonball size stomachs; along with flatten rear-ends from lack of both genetics and exercise. That some men find it easy to comment about the shape and form of women’s bodies.

    It is even crazier to me that the culture of so many men to measure their waist below the roll of their cannonball middles, somehow has allowed them to negate what they appear like to women. How is it that men feel at liberty to discuss what we as women should look like?

    I have to say also that it would do the world a great deal of good to see the shapes of the men who have the gull to write such mean things about any woman’s body. I bet the three men who had too much to say have heads full of hair and bodies that come second well third to none. Perhaps when men make these nasty comments about women a picture of them should be posted.

    No one can say that Serena has lost a match because she was too heavy. If she had fallen for these ridiculous lines she would have had an eating disorder.

    Serena do what works for you and keep shutting out the nonsense from people who think they have a right to voice their opinion.

    The only sadness I found in this article was that brief moment of Serena believing that Venus had the better body and resenting her for it.

  11. Dexxie Says:

    This might sound a bit childish but I have just seen two pictures of both Simon Barnes and Jason Whitlock and they are just what I had expected to see. It appears to me that Whitlock’s cheeks seem to say that he would prefer to eat then write.

  12. littlem Says:

    *tsk* A friend has a theory that he asked her out and got turned down flat. Hence, the vitriol.

    There are a couple of discussions, one of the Whitlock article and one on the larger gendered racism (or, racialized sexism) issues, of all places, here:

    http://jezebel.com/5308505/foul-ball

    http://jezebel.com/5303628/foul-ball

  13. Delux Says:

    As always, when men talk about women’s bodies like this, I look for the pictures that show their close resemblance to fit, well endowed men like the French rubgy team….

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