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The Magic of Serena Williams’s Vanity Fair Cover and Pregnancy Celebration

Yesterday, we briefly covered John McEnroe’s assertion that tennis legend Serena Williams would be ranked 700 in the world if she played against men. It was a weird statement because it felt like an unnecessary attempt to downplay her achievements, or act as if “men’s tennis” was the only tennis that truly matters. Williams took to Twitter to respond and request privacy:

Williams, in case you forgot, is currently pregnant. She and her fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, have been too busy celebrating and preparing to deal with murmurs about her athletic ability. After all, why should they? (I will never stop talking about how Williams won her 23rd grand slam pregnant. Never.) Unfortunately McEnroe’s comments are representative of a greater problem within tennis and the athletic world in general, something Williams has spoken about openly.

So, now we turn our attention to the gorgeous Vanity Fair cover story, titled “Serena Williams’s Love Match.” When discussing how she’s often considered one of the best athletes of all time, she says, “If I were a man, then it wouldn’t be any sort of question.” As a longtime tennis player and fan, I agree. If you look at her achievements, it’s not even a debate. Arguing that Williams would be 700th in the world if she complete in the men’s group is like arguing that a wrestler’s rank would drop if he went into a weight group that wasn’t his own. That’s not how the rubric works. 

But there’s so much more to this Vanity Fair interview than sexism towards Williams, because the most compelling and admirable part of Williams is how she’s fought against those negative voices and always kept going forward. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, who also previously shot the athlete for the Pirelli 2016 Calendar, Williams stands topless and in profile, proudly displaying her pregnant body. Knowing the obstacles that Williams has constantly had to face in the tennis world as a black woman and the offensive scrutiny she’s dealt with because of her body, this cover is a brilliant and moving act of self-love.

And this is a love story. The article is largely about Williams’s relationship and pregnancy with full understanding that they seem like a mix-matched couple from the outside. When Ohanian and Williams announced their engagement, the majority of responses were confused and taken aback—how did they meet? What do they talk about?

Vanity Fair highlights these differences, from Ohanian’s initial apathy toward tennis to Williams not knowing at all what Reddit was. However, if you read the article, which I recommend you do, it’s an amazing love story that I’m just waiting for Amma Asante to direct. I think there’s an unfortunate tendency within representation to see love as a weakness, a remnant of poor representation and traditional marriage structures. While I understand that extraneous or obligatory romantic plotlines in film or an article that, say, focuses on Amal Clooney’s husband take away from how we see women as individuals, Williams’s relationship highlights a partnership that is both genuine and beautiful.

It should not be lost on readers that the softness and tenderness of their relationship is something that black woman are often not given in media. In this Bitch piece, Catherine Young writes, “Pop culture is so full to the brim of narratives that reinforce the idea that no man would proudly claim a Black woman as his love and equal partner that it’s easy to feel like Black women are singularly undeserving of love and adoration.” This strong, amazing woman is celebrating her love, and to see her adored and respected makes me incredibly happy for her.

Also, Williams knows “all the words to the animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender by heart” and I’ve never adored her more. You can read the full article here.

(image: Vanity Fair)

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