Serena Williams appearing on the cover of a fashion magazine isn’t exactly news. The tennis icon has already established herself as a fashion trendsetter in addition to being a sports legend in the making.
But William’s appearance on the upcoming August cover of Harper’s Bazaar is noteworthy because the photos are unretouched. So her famed athletic physique – cloaked in various golden dresses – is presented raw and unvarnished. In one photo, a scar on her right leg is clearly visible. In another, two moles dot the left side of her face.
A movement – which aims to veer away from what’s been considered the traditional, mainstream standards of beauty – has been powering its way through the worlds of fashion and entertainment the past few years. It’s seen many female celebrities sharing makeup-free photos of themselves on social media or appearing in magazine photoshoots with the pictures unretouched.
She’s been body shamed in the past
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam winner, has dealt with body shaming before – her anatomy sometimes derisively compared to that of an animal – so the topic was top of mind during her interview with Harper’s. She related how controversies over her body shape have played into how she’s been treated in the world of tennis.
“As a teenager, I was booed by an entire stadium (I took the high road and even thanked those who didn’t want to see me win). I’ve been called every name in the book. I’ve been shamed because of my body shape,” she told the magazine. “I’ve been paid unequally because of my sex. I’ve been penalized a game in the final of a major because I expressed my opinion or grunted too loudly.”
The tennis superstar revisited the controversy at the finals of the 2018 U.S. Open, where she got into a heated and widely publicized dispute with an umpire. Williams was handed code violations that she felt was unfair, and then hit with a game penalty for verbal abuse after she confronted the male umpire. She felt sexism played a huge role in the confrontation.
“Why can’t I express my frustrations like everyone else? If I were a man, would I be in this situation? What makes me so different? Is it because I’m a woman?” Williams asks in the Harper’s piece. “Why is it that when women get passionate, they’re labeled emotional, crazy, and irrational, but when men do they’re seen as passionate and strong?”
Williams said male tennis players who argue with referees are “met with a smile or even a laugh from the umpire,” like it’s an inside joke or something. She’s not asking to avoid being penalized in those situations, she said, but simply wants to be treated like everyone else.
“Sadly, that’s simply not the world we currently live in,” she said.
But Williams said she had no regrets about speaking out and promised to never stop raising her voice to fight against injustice.
She’s endured a dress code controversy
In May 2018 Williams, in her first major tennis match after giving birth to her daughter, wore a black catsuit at the French Open. The striking, form-fitting Nike outfit helped her blood circulation after a difficult childbirth and was inspired by the movie “Black Panther,” Williams said at the time. It was praised by fans but criticized by tennis officials. The French Tennis Federation’s president later introduced a new dress code which banned such form-fitting clothes at the tennis tournament.
“One must respect the game and the place,” tennis federation president Bernard Giudicelli said.
Williams seemed to brush off that dress code controversy, but many of her fans – including some famous ones – called the move sexist.
Actress Elizabeth Banks wrote on Twitter: “The amount of control men feel the need to exert over women is petty-level with this one. Serena Williams is the GOAT. The game respects HER.”
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin, Nicole Chavez and Lisa Respers France contributed to this story.