Following Serena Williams’ Wimbledon triumph last week, the conversation about her physique lurched into life once again. Like the psycho killer in a bad b-movie this topic refuses to die.
J.K. Rowling issued a perfect sniper shot at a troll who claimed Serena’s win was down to her being 'built like a man'. In the parchment dry wit we've come to expect, J.K. retorted “Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress”. And accompanied the tweet with a photo of Serena at her most glamorous.
The post received north of 93,000 retweets and that troll is probably still treating the burn marks from the flaming he received from the Twittersphere.
It both surprises and disappoints me that people (mainly men I’m sorry to say), have such narrow views on what womanhood should look like, dismissing Serena as unattractive because she doesn’t adhere to their idea of femininity. There were, of course, many who spoke out positively acknowledging her athleticism and stunning looks, not seeing them as opposing factors but yet we’re still in this broken-record dialogue about her body.
Die hards insisted Serena’s muscle mass is ‘manly', commenting “Serena’ is manly - fact”. No, it’s not a fact because there are no absolutes. You’re just referencing off your own ingrained beliefs. You just don’t see it. Going beyond my immediate impulse to defend her, I tried looking at her objectively. I found that, she is, unarguably a sturdy girl with a musculature normally associated with men but does that actually make her manly?
For example, just because Kevin Hart is 5’ 4”, we don’t dismiss him as ‘childly’? We know there are tall men and short men and height has nothing to do with manliness. (That’s penis length - kidding).
Perhaps rather than leaping to label people we need to broaden our views.
Dialogue around our perceptions of gender is gaining prominence and we’re seeing greater pushback on traditional views as we fight against being boxed in by perceptions that are dated and reductive.
Rather than telling us how a women should think, what work we should do, how we should dress, we’re now starting to say, what I am is what it means to be a woman. If it doesn't fit your perception, change it! Don’t expect me to change to make you comfortable.
The conversation prompted by Serena is about people expressing a deep desire to be themselves, to live and let live and accept each other as we are.
In Break Free, a short film by Orange Is The New Black star Ruby Rose, she explores breaking out of preconceived ideas of femininity to be her authentic, androgynous self, something she has battled with from a young age.
Just look at the largely positive reception Caitlin Jenner has received where she’s being welcomed not only as a woman, but as a fashionista, pioneer and role model and even received the Arthur Ash Award for her courage through her transition.
And guess what, through accepting her, we immediately broadened our view of what it is to be a woman.
The pushback is happening around body image too as we refuse to let the media dictate what we should and shouldn’t wear or whether we have a 'beach body' or not.
On a personal level, this shift is welcome. I am not a petite girly girl. I can't wear hipsters. They barely cover my ‘shelf’ (and don’t get me started on thongs!). I’ve got hips, lumps and bumps and I won’t stand for anyone telling me muscular arms or sturdy legs somehow make me less of a woman.
This is a really important conversation which I hope gains momentum. In years to come we’ll see what a major shifting point this was in how we perceive and treat each other and how we grew as a society.
The brain loves to categorizes to help it understand the world but we are more than those primal impulses and as we continue to grow, the need for labels may become superfluous. We won’t worry about sexuality, gender, race or class. We will notice it but we’ll connect with people beyond that stuff. I mean this is a long way off but if we continue as we are, it’s a real possibility for the future.
In the mean time, check out this video made by comedian, Angela Barnes as she looks at her relationship with her own appearance.
By the way, my new show Super Shoppers is on Ch4 tmrw night (Mon 20th July). A cunsumer show with added silly!