Being criticized for her appearance is nothing new for Serena Williams – she’s dealt with body shaming since she was a teenager.
“I’ve purposely tuned people out since I was 17,” Williams, 35, tells The Fader magazine. “At the time, it was basically newspapers and maybe a website article. Maybe if the web was up back then.”
“Since the day I won the U.S. Open, my very first Grand Slam [in 1999], I never read articles about myself. If I saw my name mentioned, I’d look away. I looked at the pictures, but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t want to get too cocky, and at the same time I didn’t want to have that negative energy. I don’t know why I did it, but I did it. Ever since then I’ve been really low-key.”
Williams knows that the only opinion that really matters is her own.
“People have been talking about my body for a really long time,” she says. “Good things, great things, negative things. People are entitled to have their opinions, but what matters most is how I feel about me, because that’s what’s going to permeate the room I’m sitting in. It’s going to make you feel that I have confidence in myself whether you like me or not, or you like the way I look or not, if I do.”
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And helping to instill that self-confidence in the girls who look up to her is important to Williams.
“That’s the message I try to tell other women and in particular young girls,” she says. “You have to love you, and if you don’t love you no one else will. And if you do love you, people will see that and they’ll love you too.”
“Yeah, you know, it was ‘she’s too strong,’ and then ‘she’s too sexy,’ and then ‘she’s too strong’ again. So I’m like, well, can you choose one?” Williams says. “But either way, I don’t care which one they choose. I’m me and I’ve never changed who I am.”