She has abandoned the garb of an athlete, and in her nakedness, she is celebrating womanhood, motherhood and her body. Williams has (perhaps unknowingly) initiated an important dialogue. It’s a tough dialogue, but one that is necessary.
On the cover of Vanity Fair, Serena Williams stands almost naked, ethereal, exposing her pregnant belly, jewelled by a thin, delicate waist chain. Her open hair suggests fluidity, carrying an energy that is limitless, unbound. In all her natural, raw energy, Williams appears fierce, divine and flawlessly feminine, embracing motherhood in all its glory. Through the photograph, the tennis star brings out the beauty of being pregnant (which is traditionally bound to private spaces), into the larger, public context of our phones, desktops and lives. She has abandoned the garb of an athlete, and in her nakedness, she is celebrating womanhood, motherhood and her body. In doing so, Williams has (perhaps unknowingly) initiated an important dialogue. It’s a tough dialogue, but one that is necessary. While her loyalists have applauded her, there are fringe naysayers who object to Williams ‘exposing’ herself. Since the photograph has gone viral, she has received considerable criticism for posing nude — for exhibiting the most natural phenomenon. Many labelled it as ‘disgusting’ and ‘trashy’
. In today’s image-obsessed society, physical appearances matter. If you are a celebrity, it matters exponentially. Female celebrities’ bodies are given substantial currency, perhaps more so than their work. They have to be fit, toned and desirable. As long as they conform to the expectations of the ubiquitous ‘male gaze’, women are glorified. “The female nude in Western painting was there to feed an appetite of male sexual desire,” wrote John Berger, while discussing how women were represented in European paintings, in Ways of Seeing. “She existed to be looked at, posed in such a way that her body was displayed to the eye of the viewer.” The viewer, or the spectator, in this case, is presumed to be a man.
A woman’s body must, therefore, exist to serve the desire of the spectator. Any variation from the ‘expected’ is considered undesirable, and therefore, subject to criticism. In the world of glamour, where ethereal beauty is inextricably linked to how-well-you-can-photoshop – scars, belly fat, stretch marks and pregnant women don’t figure
And if a woman – like Williams – unapologetically displays it, she is body-shammed. When a celebrity is expecting, she temporarily retreats into obscurity, away from the glare of lights and glamour. Being pregnant, however, should be celebrated – it’s beautiful, empowering and the only reason mankind exists. It should not be shunned behind doors. It should not be covered up in floppy, ballooning outfits. It should be a woman’s prerogative to represent, symbolically, an important stage in her life.