Written by Jen Offord

Health

(Grand) slamming the bodyshamers

Tennis ace Serena Williams has just bagged her sixth Wimbledon win, but talk of her talent still plays second fiddle to that of her physique. Standard Issue sports correspondent Jen Offord urges everyone to put achievements first and foremost.

Serena Williams playing tennisAnother year passes along with another round of overpriced Pimm’s and, of course, the Wimbledon finals. It’ll therefore come as no surprise that my sporty hero du jour is Serena Williams, partly because she’s just won her 21st grand slam (which is *pretty good*) and partly because she continues to brush off a sustained campaign of abuse from douchebags the world over.

Despite having smashed her way into the record books by winning Wimbledon for the sixth time on Saturday, depressingly all I’m hearing about is some bellend on Twitter who wanted JK Rowling to agree that the champ “looked like a man”. In an unsurprising turn of events, Rowling did not.

It’s not just Twitter trolls who want to talk about Williams’ muscular form, however. An entire New York Times article, for reasons I still cannot fathom, was dedicated to discussing the physical form of female tennis players and specifically why other players choose not to “emulate [Williams’] physique”. Though well-intentioned I’m sure, the undertones are, let’s face it, unflattering.

It’s not uncommon for the discussion around women’s sport to focus on appearance; it’s not even uncommon for discussion around the Wimbledon ladies final to focus on it. Lest we forget the media shitstorm just two years ago when BBC pundit John Inverdale had some choice comments on that year’s champion, Marion Bartoli, of whom he wondered if her dad had ever told her she was “never going to be a looker”, as if it had been in some way remotely relevant.

“Research commissioned by Women in Sport found that not only did girls think ‘getting sweaty’ was unfeminine, but that 75 percent of those surveyed also felt conscious of their bodies when playing sport.”

The annoying thing here is not only that it’s completely irrelevant; it’s totally inherent in the discussion. For a start, look at the earnings: Williams, ranked number one in the world, has reportedly taken home almost double the prize money of world number two Maria Sharapova, but the ‘camera-friendly’ Russian is thought to earn almost twice as much as Williams in endorsements.

Now I’d be lying if I hadn’t considered the likelihood (or lack thereof) of my taking Williams down in a combative scenario. But as pointed out to me, there are a lot of people I wouldn’t beat in a fight (I reckon Sharapova would scrap dirty). By gabbing on about this, we’re not only detracting from Williams’ achievement, but we’re also saying that athletic achievement is unfeminine by branding female athletes ‘manly’. Let’s be honest: Williams would probably knock seven shades of shit out of the average man on the street, but she is an athlete and most average men on the street are not.

The even bigger problem here, however, is that it is exactly this kind of rhetoric that puts teenage girls off sport in the first place. Research commissioned by Women in Sport found that not only did girls think “getting sweaty” was unfeminine, but that 75 percent of those surveyed also felt conscious of their bodies when playing sport. Many of us will recognise that feeling of self-consciousness from our own PE classes, but as a recent convert to sport and someone who has felt uncomfortable about my own body almost my entire adult life, while I’m not exactly ripped, I like my body a lot better since I built a few muscles.

“Discussion about the Wimbledon men’s singles champion, Novak Djokovic, will not be dominated by digs about his stature or the fact that he looks a bit like a Muppet.”

But can we have it both ways? It’s not like I haven’t objectified David Beckham in my time or likened Wayne Rooney to a potato (to be fair, he does look like a potato). Can we pull the ‘sexist bastard’ card and damn the patriarchy when we’re doing it ourselves? The thing is, it is not a level playing field. As a friend’s husband pointed out, when he hears this kind of comment about Wayne Rooney he doesn’t think much of it, but when he hears it about a woman, he’s conscious that it is symbolic of a much wider problem.

It’s not just female athletes who are judged on the basis of their appearance but the discussion about the Wimbledon men’s singles champion, Novak Djokovic, will not be dominated by digs about his stature or the fact that he looks a bit like a Muppet. Djokovic’s talent will be uncontested.

There can be absolutely no doubt how talented Serena Williams is. For the benefit of those as yet undecided, let the record show:

Grand Slam Singles Titles: 21
Grand Slam Women’s Doubles Titles: 13
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles Titles: 2
Olympic Gold Medals: 3

The only female tennis players to have achieved more are Steffi Graf with 22 singles titles and Martina Navratilova with 41 doubles titles (in addition to her 18 singles titles). So before I mention how much I loved the frock Serena Williams wore to the winner’s ball, let me just say, she’s doing alright at tennis, too.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen