Serena Williams shows off her toned body on the October/November 2016 cover of Fader magazine. The 35-year-old tennis star talks public opinion of her sexuality, her body, advice for women speaking up against discrimination.
Q: How did you deal with people commenting about your body when you were younger, and how do you deal with it now?
Williams: I’ve purposely tuned people out since I was 17. 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, 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.
People have been talking about my body for a really long time. 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. That’s the message I try to tell other women and in particular young girls. 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.
Q: Do you have any advice for those women who may want to speak up about their experience but don’t have the same power and influence as you?
Williams: I think that’s where the mistake is made, thinking that someone is better or in a better position than anyone else. It doesn’t matter your background or where you’re coming from. You can speak to your neighbor, you can speak to your friend about how you feel about something.
You can post on social media. I think it’s really important, first of all, to realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re living where I’m from, Compton, or if you’re living somewhere else — that’s what makes the world go round. Each person is just as important as the next. Each person has a voice.
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? But either way, I don’t care which one they choose. I’m me and I’ve never changed who I am. I actually do dance a lot, so when that opportunity to appear in Lemonade came up and we were working with choreographers, just trying to figure out what to do, it was really kind of organic.
Q: When did you get comfortable showing off your sexuality?
Williams: I’ve always been comfortable. I think since I wore the catsuit at the Open back in 2002, but even before that I was pretty comfortable — ever since I was 20, maybe younger. I remember wearing that and thinking, Wow, I can’t believe I’m wearing this. I was a little nervous before, but afterwards I was totally OK