When Serena Williams slammed stereotypes and ‘strong’ became the new ‘beautiful’

We have been psyched into believing that ‘strong’ and ‘muscular’ cannot be feminine and beautiful

Fatima Majeed December 19, 2015
Whenever I ask my daughter who is her favourite tennis player, she would always say Maria Sharapova , Caroline Wozianski or some other blonde, beautiful and above all, white player. Whenever she is playing a game on her tablet, she would always choose a frail blonde avatar. And whenever her brother would tease her saying she looks dark, it would be taken as the ultimate sting.

She has never chosen a dark-skinned doll or one with a sturdy body. It makes me wonder about the factors affecting her choices and her perception of beauty. Perhaps, the fault lies with the media, the society or us, the family. We often call her Snow White due to her fair complexion, which perhaps further disrupts her idea of beauty.


It is pertinent to create better beauty standards and diverse role models for our children.  That’s what Sports Illustrated did this year by making Serena Williams their ‘Sportsperson of the Year’. As BBC states,
“It is the first time an individual woman has been given the title since Mary Decker in 1983. Since its creation in 1954, Williams is the third woman to win it alone, and the only black woman to gain the title.”

The decision was met with applaud as well as criticism but the satisfying news is that this time the cheering surpassed the biased criticism


Williams is the reigning number one female tennis player with 21 Grand Slam titles to her name.  She is considered as one of the greatest tennis players and athletes of all time. But every success she achieved was tainted by the colour of her skin. Her fierceness is mostly ridiculed and belittled as ‘manly’.  After seeing her formidable victories, many tennis fans have claimed that she belongs to men’s tennis.



Apart from her skin colour, Williams baffles us with another dilemma – her physical strength and power. We have been psyched into believing that ‘strong’ and ‘muscular’ cannot be feminine and beautiful. Williams, however, challenged such stereotypes in her career by celebrating her unique beauty and strength. Her muscular physique is changing beauty standards globally. Her latest Sports Illustrated cover rejoices her beauty, femininity and achievements in the most befitting way. Serena has managed to mellow down those hard-line perceptions and personifies the finest and healthiest slogan – ‘strong is beautiful’.


The 34-year-old American athlete is resilient and has always refused to accept and bow down to racism and discrimination. For 14 years, she boycotted Indian Wells for racial jeering she and her family faced. Williams only returned when the fans had learnt the lesson.

The speech she gave after winning the honour was highly relevant to the modern perception of feminine beauty standards.:

“I’ve had people look down on me, put me down because I didn’t look like them – I  look stronger,” she said in her acceptance speech. “I’ve had people look past me because of the colour of my skin, I’ve had people overlook me because I was a woman, I’ve had critics say I [would] never win another Grand Slam when I was only at number seven – and here I stand today with 21 Grand Slam titles, and I’m still going.”

Her ideas were echoed by Mexican-Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong’O while accepting an Oscar as she shared the same fears and restrictive ideas of beauty as she grew up. These beautiful and brave ladies are inspiring millions to be comfortable in their own skin.


SerenaWilliams is the role model I want for my daughter and every girl in this world. No matter how different you are from the preconceived notions of society, don’t ever let them slow you down. Kudos to you, Serena Williams, we need more role models like you!
Fatima Majeed An avid reader, freelance writer and home-maker.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


S.Sajid | 7 years ago | Reply This lady is an inspiration!
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