Although 18-year-old tennis star Taylor Townsend was knocked out of the French Open today, the fact that she advanced to the third round before facing defeat is a major victory. Ranked 205th, Townsend was the youngest U.S. woman to make it to the third round of the French Open since 2003; she also beat Alize Cornet, ranked 21st, to get there. But that’s not the only reason her success is a win. It’s also a huge victory for body image and body positivity, making an already strong role model for young women even stronger.
In 2012, the then-16-year-old Townsend was asked by the U.S. Tennis Association to sit out of the U.S. Open Junior tournament because of her weight. No matter that at the time, she was the world’s No. 1 junior girls’ player. Said USTA Player Development Program General Manager Patrick McEnroe at the time, “Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player. We have one goal in mind: For her to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it’s time. That’s how we make every decision, based on that.” Um, excuse me, but one does not win all those titles unless one is in fantastic shape — even if that shape doesn’t match up to the image of what we’ve all been taught to think it is.
In spite of the naysayers, Townsend competed in the 2012 U.S. Open under her own steam, with her mother footing the travel costs. She went on to win the junior doubles title at the tournament, as well as to advance to the singles quarterfinals. She also went on to win the singles and doubles titles at the Junior Australian Open and the junior doubles title at Wimbledon.
This is why I hate all those supposedly standard terms used to describe body type. “Average?” What’s actually average isn’t what most people think is average. “Slender?” What’s slender to one person might not be to another. And “athletic?” Athletic bodies, like all bodies, aren’t limited to just one “look” — as Townsend and her incredible skill, talent, and perseverance demonstrate. I mean, look at her.
Does that look like an unhealthy woman to you? No. No, it does not. As Serena Williams, who has also been criticized for her weight, noted at the time of the 2012 U.S. Open controversy, “For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, and African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary…. Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything.” Townsend looks fantastic, and she plays fantastic — end of story.
Townsend may not have one the French Open, but in many ways, she’s won a far bigger battle than that. Why try to shove all bodies into a handful of “types?” We’re all awesome, so let’s celebrate!