Taylor Townsend. A name you need to know. She is the number one ranked junior tennis player in the WORLD. She is the reigning junior girls Australian Open Champion in singles and doubles and she won the junior girls Wimbledon doubles title this summer. Did I mention she is only 16? Impressive, right?
At a time when we should be celebrating a young woman who has a promising future ahead of her, we are forced to deal with ugly issues that the world can not seem to get past: BODY IMAGE & STEREOTYPES. Yes, you read that right. BODY IMAGE & STEREOTYPES. Townsend, who planned to travel to the US Open last month, was told by the United States Tennis Association(USTA) that they were not going to finance any more tournament appearances for her until she lost weight and got into better shape. Huh? Did I miss something? The first American girl to be ranked number one since the International Tennis Federation(ITF) combined singles and doubles rankings in 2004, was all of a sudden “too big” to compete. Or as Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program so eloquently stated, “Our concern is her long term health, number one and her long term development as a player.” Was that not your concern before hand Mr. McEnroe? As a PR major, I know a “spin” when I see one and that statement may as well be in bold red letters, in all caps!
I know Mr. McEnroe said her health is his main concern but lets be real this issue centers around body image and stereotypes. The fact is, Towsend is not your stereotypical tennis player. She is tall. However, she is not slim or white. She grunts when she hits the ball. And she is black. Reminds you of some tennis players who came before her, huh? While Townsend herself has admitted that she needs to lose some weight and get into better shape, that is the least of my concerns. I have a problem with an entity such as the USTA making a public spectacle out of a 16 year old girl. I have a problem with the USTA telling Townsend, days before she was scheduled to go to the US Open, that she needed lose weight. This same girl played in tournaments all over the globe earlier in the year, in matches that lasted for hours and suddenly she is too out of shape to compete? This same girl who has been attending the USTA’s academy in Florida, where she attends classes and works out with coaches and trainers everyday now has an weight issue?
This story is disturbing. It screams of what is wrong with the world and how people, especially girls and women, are constantly made to feel less than adequate because of their physical stature. We have created this false Barbie doll image and have forced the notion onto people that every woman should look just like her. The reality is MOST women do not look like her. Every woman in this world was not born a size zero and most women in the world will not be a healthy size zero no matter how hard they try. As petite as I am, I am not even a size zero and according to some I am still too small. The fact is women come in all shapes and sizes. Women are tall, small, curvy, slim, blond, brunette, short, the list goes on and on.
It saddens me that instead of celebrating the accomplishments of a young lady, I am having to write about body image and stereotypes. I think the reason this bothers me so much is because at 16, young girls are so impressionable. They are at an age where a person’s words have the power to change the direction of their life, for better or worse. In the media, Towsend seems to be handling the issue with grace and poise. However, I can only wonder how she feels on the inside. I wonder if she feels humiliated. I wonder if she feels ostracized. I wonder if she feels that she is not good enough. I wonder if she thinks the negativity she will have to endure is worth it. At 16, she should not have to feel any of those things because we should be rejoicing over what she has done regardless of how she looks. We should be proud of her number one ranking. We should be applauding her championships. We should be telling her the best is yet to come. We should be telling her that she has potential. We should be encouraging her. We should be her biggest cheerleaders not her biggest critics. We should be rewarding her for her hard work. And if she indeed does need to lose some weight, we need to be right there in her ear telling her that she can do it. That is what we should be doing. She needs to know that not being a stereotypical tennis player is not a curse. It is a gift…..one that helps her shine the brightest on a crowded court.
CONGRATULATIONS ON ALL YOUR SUCCESS TAYLOR!!! THE SKY IS THE LIMIT!!