Will we ever tire of seeing Serena Williams atop magazine covers? Don’t bet on it. We love that Williams—already the most powerful woman in sports—is also having the power of her beauty recognized, again and again.
Her latest grand slam? Allure magazine’s “Body & Mind” issue, where she recreates the pose from her iconic nude and pregnant Vanity Fair cover to remind us that motherhood has only made her more majestic. But while Williams and sister Venus are widely considered inspirational and aspirational idols, as she reminds writer Ashley C. Ford, it’s a lane they largely had to create for themselves.
“There weren’t a lot of role models for me to look up to [in the sport] and say, ‘Wow, I want to look like this!’” she said. “Venus and I started out being successful, continued to be successful, and we were also unapologetically ourselves. We were not afraid to wear braids. We weren’t afraid to be black in tennis. And that was different. ... I think my mom instilled in us to be confident women, to really believe in ourselves, be proud of our heritage, our hair, and our bodies. That was something that was really important for her to teach us,” she continued. “I’m definitely teaching it to my daughter.”
“When I tell her she’s beautiful, I want to teach her that she’s beautiful from the inside,” Williams later adds. “Giving is beauty. Being kind and humble is the ultimate beauty.”
Speaking of now one-year-old Alexis Olympia, Williams already recognizes a few of her own famous features in her daughter—notably, that strong physique.
“I have a picture from when I was, like, two years old. My arms are ripped,” she says. “If you look at my daughter, she has a very similar body type.”
And how is Williams currently feeling about her own body, which in the past two years has experienced pregnancy (which Williams says she “loved everything about,”) an emergency C-section and post-delivery near-death scare, a lengthy rehabilitation and training to get back on her game, and the relentless quest to get back to the top of it, culminating last year in the controversial final round of the US Open.
“I’m feeling pretty good about my body. I worked hard at it in the past eight months to get back from the baby. It hasn’t been easy. I’m not 21 anymore. But I did it slow and steady,” the 37-year-old powerhouse says. “After I came out [of the hospital], I had a stomach, but I thought, This is kind of cool. I have a stomach because the baby was there.”
Williams also discusses the deep love, security and support she’s found with husband Alexis Ohanian, Sr., referencing some of her high-profile prior relationships when she discusses why her marriage works—a fact anyone familiar Ohanian’s unabashed cheerleading and open adoration for his wife on social media can attest to. Memorably, the two had a meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind romance that saw the birth of Alexis Olympia before the two wed in New Orleans in late 2017.
But Williams tells Allure she wasn’t looking for love when she found it casually drinking coffee at the next table outside her hotel in Rome.
“It just hadn’t happened, and I really didn’t think about it much,” she says. “I was so committed to my job, and to being the best and working the hardest, and I think I still am. Not to knock anyone else I was with before, because they were all mostly amazing, but I know now I can be selfish, have a great career, and a great partner, someone that believes in me.”
“Oprah said, ‘Never let anyone dim your light.’ That really stuck with me,” she continues. “Alexis doesn’t dim my light. He doesn’t try to dim my light. He puts me in the light, even if I don’t want to be. He pushes me to further points I never thought about. It always was something that I could see in some relationships—my light would be dimmer. Now I feel like I can shine really bright and still do everything that I want to do.”
And she’s done plenty. In addition to her comeback on the court and hands-on mothering, in the past year, Williams has attended business school, begun creating modern art and launched an eponymous clothing line, which recently added options for her fuller-figured fans under her “Serena Great” label. It’s a classification we raised some issue with, but Williams set the record straight for Allure.
“They’re not ‘extended sizes,’ because I feel like those sizes don’t fit the same,” she says. Allure goes on to explain that Williams “doesn’t like the term ‘plus-size’ and makes clear her intent that “this new line isn’t just about offering something to people who wanted to purchase the clothes she designed in a larger size; it is made specifically for them.” We’d still argue that sometimes we just want larger versions of what everyone else is offered, but okay.
Williams also explained why she chose the name “Great” for this new offering.
“I was thinking, How do people describe me? They say I’m great,” she aptly notes. “I don’t look like everyone else. They still call me great. In fact, they call me the greatest. I thought, OK, that’s it. That’s the word. It’s ‘great.’ ”
Well, we certainly can’t argue with that. And on the subject of arguments, Williams stands by her stance against that referee at the US Open; not for herself, but on principle.
“Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person,” she says.
That’s the legacy Williams is trying to leave behind—and one she wants to instill in her daughter, whom she calls her biggest investment.
“I want her to know that being strong is never easy. Not in this world we are living in,” Williams mused. “Standing up for yourself is not going to be easy, but it’s always eventually respected. Those are the people who’ve made a difference in this world, people that stand up for what’s right. If you look at history, those are the people that you really remember. And at the time, oh, my God, it seemed impossible.”
And because it seems almost nothing is impossible for Serena Williams, Allure also captured her trying a series of new things, just for our enjoyment. What will she conquer next?