Fear and clothing: Why Serena Williams is practically perfect
A weekly column on the vagaries and charms of fashion
Search the hashtag #fitspo and #fitspiration and your social media feed will instantly get flooded by images of women with sixpacks, crazy perky butts and extreme muscle tone. It seems that what women considered to be the ideal body type has progressively changed. It used to be model thin. Now it might just be model thin and super fit.
The research backs this up. Published earlier this year in the research journal Sex Roles, two researchers showed female students images of beauty queens through the ages – the marked preference was for the newly minted #fitspo body types. They did a double-blind test and showed them visually altered images of the same beauty queens with and without the muscles, and they chose the muscles.
Strong is the new skinny is the newly coined mantra of the age. This could be interesting. It could mean that women are moving away from unhealthy perceptions of weight to embracing healthier lifestyles. And this is great news. But jump down the #fitspo rabbit hole and you could be excused if you start panicking. The before and after inspirational treatises supported by pictures are stressful – where once you had to go on a fast for 20 years, now you have to fast but only on very clean organic Instagram-friendly chia seeds and green kale smoothies while training like a pro. By that I mean a professional athlete – because how else are you going to look like this?
Have we just replaced one impossible standard with a new and improved model? Is the superwoman Kayla Itsines doing strength routines like a bionic rabbit on steroids the only way forward for all women? And I have nothing against Kayla – she is amazing, but are we all doomed to feel insufficiently thin and now insufficiently supplied with washboard abs?But in all this mad scramble for #fitspo perfection there is a beacon of hope. See her glow at the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding. She has a name. Serena Williams. Practically perfect in every way – like a latter-day Mary Poppins. Producing marvels from her magic bag of tricks with such sleight of hand that makes it all look – well like magic.
She is strong, athletic, has washboard abs, but is also not chasing some crazy notion of thin. She is built in superhuman proportions – but human is the operative word. And they are her own proportions that she proudly clads in fantastically fashion-forward sports gear.
If young women want a role model they need only look here. She is a single-minded champion of determination and delight, showing us all a better way forward. No we can’t all be three months pregnant and win championships, but what we can do is show up for the match looking fierce and proud and committed to the game. Hopefully we can clean up too. Even if we are being told that taking maternity leave means we have to do it all again from the bottom up.