Magazine article New African

Serena Williams and the White Beauty Syndrome

Magazine article New African

Serena Williams and the White Beauty Syndrome

Article excerpt

It seems white people have been obsessed with black people's physical appearance and they have been for centuries. But the ongoing media coverage about Serena Williams' physique just takes the matter to another level!

Are we as black people becoming overly sensitive over certain issues? I ask because of the all hullabaloo following the (mainstream, white) media reportage about Serena Williams's body. According to them, Serena Williams looks like a man. And black people are up in arms over this.

Before I continue, let me make it clear, my reflections on this body issue have nothing to do with Serena herself. I have had the pleasure of meeting her and I can tell you she is a lovely person. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for her, both as a champion tennis player and as a woman.

So these reflections on a woman's physical appearance have nothing to do with Serena herself, per se. I guess she provides the perfect example, as it's the media reportage of her body that has inspired these reflections.

Is the white media right in saying Serena looks like a man? Or are they being racist as many black people are saying? Initially I thought not. Because let us face it, Serena's body is not in its natural state. She's pumped iron to get it where it is now. Physically, women are smaller than men. Obviously not all women around the world are smaller than men so I am not for one moment saying that is the case. But generally the acceptance is that women are more feminine-looking. Muscles are generally perceived to be something associated with men. So the white media are saying Serena looks masculine and black people are crying foul. But come on my people, let me play devil's advocate and ask if Serena Williams was white, would you not agree she's rather macho for a woman? At first, I felt black people were overreacting. But the more I observe the news, the more I am forced to accept that indeed the way the white media are talking about Serena's body is racist. And I say so because l have evidence.

Then came Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner

Let me start with Bruce Jenner. A former Olympic Gold medalist. A husband. A father. One day, Bruce decided he is actually a woman living in a man's body. And proceeded to go ahead with surgery to become a woman, now called Caitlyn. To the white media, Bruce Jenner is not only brave but Caitlyn is also beautiful and glamorous. Admittedly Bruce/Caitlin is not as muscular as Serena. But Jenner still looks like a man. And yet the same white media don't see anything beautiful in Serena.

In trying to figure out whether or not this is indeed racist, I cast my mind back to history. And I remember another black great sportswoman in the 1980s who was constantly and consistently called masculine by the media. Do you remember javelin-thrower Tessa Sanderson? She won Gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics Games, becoming the first British woman to do so. I remember a lot of fuss being made about her masculine appearance. This was at a time when Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies, also physically well-built, was perceived as beautiful.

So what we are expected to believe is that whereas a white male, dressed as a woman is feminine, beautiful and glamorous, a black woman who is sporty and has muscles is not? Who decides these rules? It seems white people have been obsessed with black people's physical appearance for centuries. From the days of parading us as objects to be ogled and probed, to today when white women have surgery to get big butt implants and are applauded for it! …

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