In her career of more than 20 years as an athlete and celebrity, Serena Williams has endured a lot of highs and lows. But among the trophies she’s earned, praise she’s received, new business ventures she’s embarked on and personal milestones she’s hit (including getting married and becoming a mother within a year), Williams has faced a lot of negativity, mostly digs at her appearance aimed to tear her down. Now, she’s pushing back and telling Harper’s Bazaar UK in a new interview how she’s turning that negativity into a teaching moment for herself and her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
“It was hard for me,” Williams said of the criticisms she’s faced. “People would say I was born a guy, all because of my arms, or because I’m strong. I was different to [her sister] Venus: She was thin and tall and beautiful, and I am strong and muscular — and beautiful, but, you know, it was just totally different.”
While it’s heartbreaking to know that Williams has faced the kind of unfair, sexist cruelty that — as many women can confirm — is somehow typical, the conversation got even more heartwrenching when she spoke about a 2004 report that noted one goal: to reach a size 4.
“Oh God, I’ll never be a size 4,” Williams remarked to Harper’s Bazaar. “Why would I want to do that, and be that?”
But now, Williams is in a more reflective, positive state of mind; she’s embracing her body in all its curves and glory. “This is me, and this is my weapon and machine,” Williams stated. “But I love that I said that because I can understand. I can show Olympia [her daughter] that I struggled, but now I’m happy with who I am and what I am and what I look like. Olympia was born and she had my arms, and instead of being sad and fearful about what people would say about her, I was just so happy.”
She continued, “I knew I was having a girl, because when I was playing tennis in the [2017 Australia Open], I didn’t have one day of morning sickness, no symptoms. Australia is really hot, some days can be over 40 degrees [Celsius], which is insane, but she never complained. I said to Alexis, ‘This is a girl. Only a woman can be this strong.'”
It’s inspiring to see that her strength and endurance, which came from facing some of the worst, toughest criticisms a woman can face, has filled Williams with a positive outlook now. Even better, she’s ready to pass it along to her daughter, which is a happy ending to an otherwise dark story.