Why we body-shame black female athletes

Serena Williams won her 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon this month. This marks the 17th time in a row that she has defeated Maria Sharapova. Yet Williams, who has earned more prize money than any female player in tennis history, is continually overshadowed by the woman whom she consistently beats. In 2013, Sharapova earned $29 million, $23 million of that from endorsements. That same year, Williams earned $20.5 million, only $12 million of that from endorsements. How’s that possible? Because endorsements don’t always reward the best athlete. They often reward the most presentable according to the Western cultural ideal of beauty.

I know, you think this article is about racism. It’s not.

Misty Copeland just became the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. But when she was 13, she was rejected from a ballet academy for having the wrong body type. “Dear candidate, Thank you for your application to our ballet academy. Unfortunately, you have not been accepted. You lack the right feet, Achilles tendons, turnout, torso length, and bust.” At 13? That criticism of her body being too muscular and “mature” has followed her throughout her career. “There are people who say that I don’t have the body to be a dancer, that my legs are too muscular, that I shouldn’t be wearing a tutu, that I don’t fit in,” Copeland said in response.

What do these two highly successful athletic women have in common? They seem to endure more body shaming than their white, less successful counterparts.