Reading coverage of Serena Williams’ fifth Wimbledon singles win, as well as her doubles triumph with sister, Venus, I braced myself. Discussions about Williams too quickly devolve into worn attacks on black womanhood, includings assertions about laziness (29 Grand Slam titles); a uniquely bad attitude (John McEnroe, anyone?) and appearance. Always that.

Williams’ size, her muscles, and her derriere seem never to escape mention. This world-class athlete is even branded “fat.” This, like criticism of black, female Olympians, Jessica Ennis and Louise Hazel, should illustrate that much public judgement about black women’s bodies is not about our health and welfare, but exotification and the long-held belief that we are anti-women who lack the delicacy and femininity of other members of our gender.

We cannot go further without examining the sexism inherent in deriding female athletes for being big and strong, qualities that are praised in men, whether pros or weekend warriors. Sports are about athletic prowess not hotness. But while Roger Federer won praise in comments to a Huffington Post article about his Wimbledon triumph, responses to an article on Williams, included:

Power wins on grass courts, and Williams has no excuse not to win, being built like an NFL linebacker.

Too much testosterone for a woman.

More of a woman????? Ya, on steroids. 120 mph serve?? Most men dont hit that. It’s not just her size, it’s her attitude and classlessness that piss people off. Like her cute comment to the line judge last year, about how she was gonna jam the racket up her A**? So dainty.

I saw the match and I thought that Radwanska played a good match against a physically imposing if not intimidating player.

Williams is built like a man. She possesses too much testosterone. She hits too hard. She is physically intimidating. She isn’t dainty enough. Even before her win last week, one could find numerous queries to sites like Ask.com about whether Williams is fat. Williams herself spoke to Tyra Banks in 2009 about how such criticisms have hurt her.

Williams is not the only black, female athlete to be attacked for her size. British heptathlete Jessica Ennis was recently criticized by UK Athletics officials for being “too fat.” Coming to her teammate’s defense, 2010 gold medalist Louise Hazel said she too has been criticized for her size. Both women’s bodies are perhaps closer to the mainstream ideal than Serena Williams’, which could well point to the reality of all the talk about black women and size.

Everyday black women are castigated for being too big and we are told this is because of our health. But black women who are world-class athletes, poster children for good health and the amazing things the human body can do — well, they are also too big by mainstream standards.

For those of us who are not athletes, just black women who want to move often and eat well, it is important that our inspiration comes from our own desire for health and longevity, not in response to the cacophony of hand-wringing over black bodies. Because negativity hurled at women like Serena Williams proves that even when we win, some folks hampered by racism and sexism will want us to lose.

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40 Comments

  1. I assume by “mainstream” you mean the predominately White-run media is hypercritical of Black female athletes. But you cite comments to articles – and not the articles themselves as evidence. Most of the articles I’ve read have been overwhelming supportive of Black female athletes. You have to read the comments to the articles with a grain of salt given the racist and troublemakers who tend to hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

    I think the bigger issue here is how Black popular media talks about our female athletes. Go on Bossip.com or MTO and the very articles and comments are overly sexual and cruel even, particular with the Williams girls hair, skin, and clothing choices.

    • @BlackWorthy: I have to disagree. Black women — and men — are overwhelmingly framed as physical specimens with superior physical genes. Hell, Michael Johnson black ass is justifying this baseless unscientific theory that is widely disseminated and unfortunately believed by the masses who have been systematically dumb-down so that these sports writers can get away with Jason Whitlock-esque assaults on the black athlete.

      • I’m glad you mentioned Jason Whitlock, because the Fox Sports contributor wrote an article slamming Williams as fat and out-of-shape.

        • @Tami (Writer): I agree wholeheartedly. Jason Whitlock is a modern day real life Uncle Ruckus

        • @Tami (Writer): The comments Jason Whitlock made are utterly ridiculous. Neither of the Williams sisters are fat. This idea goes back to one of my biggest issues of how body mass index is measured. Mainly, it being a ratio used to assess weight relative to height. Also, BMI does not distinguish between fat weight and fat-free weight (muscle). I think this old formula for assessing obesity leads to wrong thinking – mainly that woman who are anything other than skeletal are automatically obese.

      • @Black Sports:

        I agree, the comment Michael Johnson made was dumb… but I summarize his comment in this way… as much as he has traveled the world… he still has a broke down southern “uncle tom” way of thinking… in other words, he has heard something one way “without research” and is repeating it like a – - Yes’um Boss- – negro…

  2. 40 million dollar slaves :-(

  3. Just maybe these two William chicks ,are not the ones who should be used as poster children for Black women ? Venus is so full of self hatred , that she -just like Woppie, Alice Walker , and other delusional creatures-does not see a white guy she does not wish to hop into bed with , from the pool cleaning hairy white male, to the bodyguard bag man , and we can throw in a balding, ugly ,4 th string golfer ( who never made the cut)just for good measure. Not certain ,if a Black male ever touched any part of her body , except maybe her papa ,when he was changing her diapers , waaaaay back in low end Kalifornia , before they became famous. As for Serena, there are guys who find her enticing sexually – if that is what you are referring to. Many are unfortunately doing time in some prison across these United States , and so their views do not count.

    • @Znend rii: PLEASE-you make no sense at all. Both of them love themselves. You or I can’t speak on what their internal thoughts are please don’t spout garbage

    • See, that’s the entire point of this article. To focus on trivial and unconfirmed garbage, you only confirm the author’s statement about black women being trivialized. Venus is an incredible athlete, has a life outside of tennis (multiple ventures that are successful-a rarity amongst other tennis players), and overcame a debilitating illness last year. And won a ton of Grand Slams.

      Also, do you hang out with Venus? How do you know this information? It’s just gossip, and since you “know” her so well, what have you done lately in your life? Perhaps we could ask her about you? Yeah, didn’t think so. By the time you leave this earth, one year of your miserable existence won’t even touch her accomplishments.

      @Znend rii:

    • The williams sisters r top shelf……..you wished you were in their league

  4. I have to agree with @BlackWorthy . I have definitely seen just as harsh if not worse criticisms of the Williams sisters physical appearance on blogs and message boards geared towards black audiences. Comments made by both black men AND women. I wish I had a suggestion or a solution for this but I don’t unfortunately. I am just happy these women are confident in themselves and their abilities, and seemingly surrounded by family who loves them.

  5. These women are definitely not fat in any way shape or form. They may not have the ideal body type that fits everyone’s preference and that’s alright, no one fit’s everyone’s preference because everyone has different preferences. I personally, like extremely healthy athletic cut physics it’s just a personal preference, but I know not everyone shares my ideal and…. I could care less LOL.

  6. This article is crap. Serena received nothing but praise from the mainstream media. The Huffington Post article that is linked could not have given her more praise. The negative comments were from internet posters, not serious journalists. These people that are quoted routinely castigate anyone that they do not agree with. Next time try to do better than to post this tired and out of date line of thought.

    • @Richard Kline: Who is this? Is this Jason Whitlock? or Greg Couch? or is this ESPN’s Chris Fowler who praised the mental toughness of Serena’s opponent Agniezka Radwanska and claimed at every moment he could that Serena’s sheer strength overpowered her opponent

      Get outta here

  7. The people making these statements are using the sisters muscular structures as a proxy for race. Fact is, if they looked like supermodels, haters would find some other reason to hate because the REAL issue is thier race, not how they look.

    Hardly any women, fit the “idea” of feminine beauty the media perpetuates this isn’t limited to African American women. That’s why white women starve themselves to death. It’s time for all women to learn to love themselves for who they are, not by how many men find them attractive. Anyway your article really doesn’t reference media comments rather what readers say.

    If strength is not feminine what is? Weakness?

  8. People is mad because th Williams sister is kickass.

  9. Say whatever you want but to me, they all are sexy as hell. Black men aren’t afraid of a strong muscular woman. I’ll take them any day over a little delicate bolnde, blue-eyed white girl.

  10. In reading the comments themselves, I did not see any particular racial references or inferences. Yes, she is strongly built as are a lot of females athletes and that particular built is cross-racial. I think you want to turn, perhaps sexists comments, into racial ones and that, whether you are pro-black or not, is deplorable.

  11. Michael Johnson made was dumb, and lacks education, when he asserted his reasoning for blacks being dominant in sports… but I summarize his comment in this way… as much as he has traveled the world… he still has a broke down southern “uncle tom” way of thinking… in other words, he has heard something one way “without research” and is repeating it like a – - Yes’um Boss- – negro…

    I bet he is broke and working somewhere in Georgia on a tobacco farm…

  12. KHALID HATIM SHABAZZ

    I say there is a house negro and field negro,IN THE THE 21 CENTURY WE STILL HAVE THEM.NOW I SAY GOOD JOB MS.WILLIAM, MAY GOD BLESS YOU WITH MUCH SUCCESS.MAY GOD BLESS YOU WITH MUCH STRENGTH TO OVER COME ALL MENTAL AND PHYSICAL TRAILS.TO YOUR EVER Challenger GIVE THEM ALL A BLOW OF VICTORY.

  13. Serena Williams is HUGE! I am a guy and she towers over me and could probably throw me around like a rag. I dont know if being black has anything to do with her amazon like physique (i think it probably does) but I still find her to be quite sexy and an attractive woman.

  14. I love, love the Williams sisters…they are role models…beautiful bodies everything

  15. Some of the things said on this post were quite ugly which really didn’t address the comments made which are so absurd.

  16. Serena IS fat from the shoulders down.

  17. i think it hot

  18. The truth is, black people as a whole are genetically built to carry greater muscle mass. This is nothing new. Even at our thinnesst, we are predestined to be thicker. We cannot escape it. And not to bring this up, but this is why we were bread like cattle during slavery in order to make a bigger and better super slave. The slave owners had a plan to make a slave super army, it is what it is. But as far as serena she’s athletic perfection, as well as all of the other altletes. We all can’t deny thinking when we see the elite group of people, “I wish I had a _____ like hers.. ya know? I know I have.

  19. all these women are beautiful. That is all.

  20. Think this article generalizing slightly! The Williams sisters are simply STUNNING – good grief as a white male from South Africa i simply admire them big time! Would humbly kiss their beautiful black feet anytime. Generally white people have huge appreciation for Black sporting excellence – only the few and small would degrade Black athletic excellence.

  21. Serena Williams is the pillar of womanhood. She is lean and beautiful. She has accomplished what I as a woman could never dream of doing in my short, miserable lifetime. If there was a pantheon of gods in the tennis world, she would be the queen. So, I bow to her. As for that woman with the British top, I would totally hook up with her. Her smile is so seductive.

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