Serena Williams is synonymous with strength. A real-life superwoman, she is well known for embodying not just the physical but the mental strength that is required when defending the title of the “world’s greatest athlete” – one many have (begrudgingly) bestowed on her, after years of stubborn denial and downplaying her talents.
But a recent Instagram post has shown her ability to provide strength to others through her vulnerability, too. Williams withdrew from the Montreal tournament this Saturday, citing "personal reasons", after a 6-1 6-0 loss to Britain's Johanna Konta at the Silicon Valley Classic event – the first time since turning professional in 1995 that she had failed to win at least two games in a match.
In a more detailed post on Instagram, Williams went on to explain that she had been struggling with “post-natal emotions” – and, more importantly, stressed that these feelings were normal and acknowledged that they are ones experienced by many new mums.
"Last week was not easy for me," she wrote in an Instagram post. "Not only was I accepting some tough personal stuff, but I just was in a funk. Mostly, I felt like I was not a good mom.
"It's totally normal to feel like I'm not doing enough for my baby,” she continued. "Most of you moms deal with the same thing. I'm here to say: if you are having a rough day or week – it's OK – I am, too!"
Williams is a powerhouse in every sense and it should not be overlooked that she holds power in her ability to be open about her difficulties, too. Her candid post, despite being less than 100 characters, illustrates another type of strength entirely – one that Beyoncé recently evoked, too. The most important woman in pop culture, and without a doubt the Serena Williams of music, covered Vogue’s 2018 September issue, accompanied by an uncharacteristically frank interview in conversation with writer Clover Hope. The cover was shot by 23-year-old Tyler Mitchell – the first black person to shoot a Vogue cover in its 126-year history, at her request.
Black women are so rarely given the space to be human – even less so when they are living examples of #BlackExcellence
She discusses an array of things – motherhood and body image – along with more personal themes she usually reserves for exploration in her music. But in the interview, over which she had “unprecedented control”, she chose to be frank about things we rarely hear her ever speak on. “After the birth of my first child, I believed in the things society said about how my body should look,” she said. “I put pressure on myself to lose all the baby weight in three months, and scheduled a small tour to assure I would do it. Looking back, that was crazy.”
“To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real. Whenever I’m ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.”
She goes on to discuss suffering from toxemia – more commonly referred to these days as pre-eclampsia – a condition in which you have high blood pressure during pregnancy, which can cause damage to your organs, most often the liver and kidneys. “Some of your organs are shifted temporarily, and in rare cases, removed temporarily during delivery,” Beyoncé explained. Similarly, Serena Williams was equally as honest in a Vogue cover this year, where she revealed that she had blood clots and a burst C-section after her daughter was born. She was bedridden for six weeks after. If we had been told both women had given birth with a solitary push within an hour and were back on their feet within a day, we wouldn’t have blinked. Their choice to discuss and engage with the realities of motherhood is far more shocking to a world that views them as otherworldly – and even more awe-inspiring.
Both Serena and Beyoncé have, using spaces where they can control their own narratives, actively chosen to show their vulnerability. Vulnerability many would have assumed they simply didn’t have. Black women are so rarely given the space to be human – even less so when they are living examples of #BlackExcellence. From physical weakness to body image to motherhood, they have been able to tell their own stories in a way that empowers others and doesn’t diminish the struggles we all face as “weakness” – and in doing so, have shown just how powerful they really are.