INB4 “Serena Is So Jacked”

I’m not one for the major league sports.  Of Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey, I rarely watch anything other than a Raven’s game or a Saints game.  I never enjoyed them that much in childhood, and they just doesn’t get me going.  The inherent fanaticism in sports culture overrides the athleticism.

I’m all about other sports though.

Golf, powerlifting, badminton, I’ll play or watch those all day.  This weekend was a great weekend for sports, as baseball is at the end of the season, football is just getting started, the America’s Cup is underway, and the US Open just ended.  For the 5th time in history, Serena Williams won the tournament.

Congratulations, Serena.  I was rooting against you.  It’s not personal, but I have this habit of cheering for the underdog.  I like upsets.  That being said, I’m glad you won.

The moment that Azarenka put the last ball into the net, I thought, “Wow, that’s #5, she’s the best player of this generation.”  Then I began a mental countdown until the pop-culture body image commentary began.

Serena and her sister Venus were part of  a turn-of-the-century shift in tennis culture.  They were aggressive, precise, and hit harder than everyone else.  They also carry more muscle.

Serena Williams of USA wins her first round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium on day one of the US Open 2013 in New York

Absolute strength or muscular hypertrophy are rarely given credit in tennis.  They’re rarely given credit in women’s sports. They’re rarely given credit in British lawn sports in general, but somehow we all know somebody else who is jacked for their sport.


When Tiger was at the height of his domination of the golf world, he was the most muscular player on tour, and reported weight room performance was impressive.  He also spanked everybody else in driving distance.  Correlation?  Likely so, and we can see many of the recent stars on the PGA tour advocating actually training, and not spending all of their hours tinkering on swing mechanics at the range.

This has been accepted in culture, but in women’s athletics there is noticeable lag.  Serena is still considered to be the most-muscular.  Here we see her next to her Finals opponent, Victoria Azarenka:


Before we consider societal implications here, let’s think about their professional goal:  Win on the tennis court.  I’ve checked out some of the match statistics on the US Open website and found out that their 1st serve accuracy was exactly the same: 57%.  Let’s look at some speeds:

Williams’ fastest serve was 126 MPH, while Azarenka’s was 104 MPH.
Williams’ average 1st serve speed was 105 MPH, while Azarenka’s was 96 MPH.
Williams’ average 2nd serve speed was 83 MPH, while Azarenka’s was 84 MPH.
Williams won 76% of her first serves, compared to 55% of Azarenka’s.  What do you see there?  The stronger, faster athlete wins more points.  This corroborates what we see in almost every sport ever: stronger, faster, athletes win.
The performance of the Williams’s sisters has been noted in The New York Times and Bleacher Report.  It’s not a surprise to anybody that they’ve been dominating the sport.  However, it still seem to surprise people that they don’t look like runway models.  I found commentary on one particular photo of Serena that read:
Serena Williams looks pretty fucking ready to not only win the U.S. Open, but tear the heads off of her opponents, rampage through the stands at Flushing Meadows, and ultimately make her way atop the Empire State Building to be shot down by kids from unpronounceable Asian nations with smuggled BB guns stationed on the observation deck. I might be reading into it too much, but I just shit my pants looking at her quads.
I wasn’t able to determine the gender of the writer, but I believe we can take their view as a generic statement about societal views on female bodies.  Sports culture is a microcosm of our culture as whole, one where we still equate masculinity to muscular hypertrophy and aggression, and femininity to petite bodies and submissiveness.
You know, because clearly only dudes can grow muscles.
Earlier this summer I read skimmed a piece from Jezebel that exclaims that Strong Is Not ‘The New Skinny’ Because Women Don’t Need A New Skinny“.  As to refresh my memory, I found the piece again to better digest it.  Wouldn’t you know it, but they actually referred to the Williams sisters!  Wait, wait:
All of the women pictured with the article are conventionally attractive, slender women in full makeup whose expensive gym memberships have helped them to have muscular — but not, like, Williams sister muscular — bodies.
The Jezebel piece referred to a NY Post article that proclaimed that the latest training trend (in NYC) was to look strong.  Clearly, I clicked through to the article.  They were celebrating several middle-aged women in New York who discovered strength training and it had changed their life.  There wasn’t actually any strength training discussed; they were using 10lb bungees in a Pilates class or doing 100lb deadlifts.  That’s not strong, at least not for a strength coach.  That’s just not focusing on being as skinny as possible.
From Jezebel:

Great. “Strong is the new skinny” means “now you have to lift weights to be fuckable.”

To be fair, visible strength as an aesthetic ideal is less awful than visible weakness as an aesthetic ideal… But do why do we need aesthetic ideals at all? I realize that I’m preaching to the choir here, but why can’t a variety of bodies be just fine?

The look of being strong is no better than the look of being skinny.  Everybody should be agreeing  that a 1-size-fits-all approach fails to account for individual ideas or preference.  What do you want to look like without feeling the weight of society telling you that you should be a certain shape or certain size?
Many of us are driven to the gym for our own unique aesthetics goals, and I strongly believe that an emphasis on strength development is key for everyone to reach their physique and health goals.  Super-star athletes like Serena Williams focus on dominating the tennis court, and you may be worried about dominating your day at work.  Either way, actually getting stronger helps everyone.
Strength isn’t about the way you look.  It’s about the way you feel.  It’s about the way that you perform in the things that matter the most to you.  Strong is not the new skinny, because strong isn’t a look.  Strong is performance.
Look however the hell you want, but please don’t be weak.  You’ll move better and feel better, on both the inside and the outside.  Before you contribute to the “Serena is so jacked” conversation that relays the message of “Serena is far too muscular, that’s not what I was taught a woman should look like.” Think about where you learned this, how society developed that view point, and why it should go away for good.


3 Replies to “INB4 “Serena Is So Jacked””

  1. A bit late to this, but just wanted to say congrats on a an article that picks up the fine nuances of the issues involved – well written.

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