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High-End California Store Chain Censors Serena Williams’ Cover Photo, Citing “Family Values”

By now, you are probably familiar with the Vanity Fair cover shot of tennis powerhouse Serena Williams posing naked in all her badass pregnant glory. The photo, taken by photographer Annie Leibovitz, harkens back to the iconic 1991 shot of actress Demi Moore, also visibly pregnant, and in the same pose as Williams.

As Vogue points out, Williams is just one of many celebrities who have recently shown off their totally gorgeous pregnant bellies (Beyoncé and Alanis Morissette are a few others who have done the same). As far as I’m concerned, Williams looks like a freaking goddess on that cover, and there is nothing whatsoever offensive about the photo. Heck, Williams is even tastefully and modestly covering her bosom in the shot.

And yet, Williams seems to be getting a whole lot of backlash from haters who think it’s even remotely acceptable to comment on a woman’s body — especially as she is in the midst of using it for the most natural, life-giving purpose out there. I mean, it’s 2017, folks. Can we just leave women alone, and let them proudly show off their bodies in any way they deem empowering and appropriate?

Well, it turns out it’s not just haters on the internet who are going after Williams. Check this out: A high-end grocery chain in Los Angeles, CA called Gelson’s has recently taken some steps to deliberately obscure the Williams’ cover from shoppers. As Adweek reports, the grocery store, which regularly attracts such A-list celebrities as Steven Spielberg and Billy Crystal, has been carrying the magazine on their shelves, but has strategically placed a white piece of paper over Williams’ pregnant belly.

Censorship anyone?

And it’s not just one copy of the magazine, or one location of the supermarket chain. Multiple customers at multiple locations of Gelson’s across Los Angeles have spotted this exact cover-up contraption. Totally crazy, right?

Michelle Villemaire, author, actor, community activist and DIY expert at the blog and YouTube channel HomeMadeMimi, regularly shops at Gelson’s, and stumbled upon the “cover-up” just a few days ago while she was shopping with her 6-year old daughter. Villemaire took to Facebook to share a picture of the covered up magazine.

“What the hell is this?!” Villemarie wrote. “I just caused a scene and called the manager over. She says it’s a corporate decision. A friend says Serena’s being censored at other supermarkets too. Did other celebrities get censored for being pregnant on the covers of magazines???”

Villemarie tells Babble that when she alerted the manager to what she was seeing, she was told that it was a “corporate” decision. As of now, Villemarie has tried reaching Gelson’s corporate offices for an explanation, but has yet to hear back.

Villemarie says that she is not the only one up-in-arms about this. Scores of people in her community have been taking to social media to call Gelson’s out for censoring Williams’ image. Various members of her community have shared photos from several different Gelson’s where the magazine is covered up in the exact same manner.

So this is clearly not a one-time thing.

And if that’s the case, the question is why would a store chain — in a very liberal part of the country, as Villemarie notes — choose to do something that has its whole community totally pissed off?

The only answer that Villemarie has come across is what was written in her local paper — a photo of which she shared on Facebook today.

As Villemarie points out, buried in that the article is a quote from a staff member at Gelson’s telling The Palisadian Post that a female customer complained that the image of pregnant Serena Williams “offended family values” and might “hurt the children.” Adweek additionally confirms that the store claims several customers complained about the Vanity Fair cover.

Huh? Even if those kinds of complaints were out there, why did Gelson’s need to take such drastic actions to hide the covers? Why listen to the voices of a few haters, and succumb to that? Again, the store has not officially come out with a statement about that, but the question is something I think everyone would like an answer to.

The thing is, it’s not just about censorship. It’s about body image, and what kind of messages about that are being shared with the world. As Villemarie tells Babble, she was at the store with her 6-year-old daughter when she saw the censored cover, and her immediate concern was about the message something like this was conveying to her daughter.

“While waiting, I made clear to my child that what they had done was not OK,” Villemarie tells Babble. “There is nothing shameful about a pregnant woman’s body.”

Villemarie, who also happens to be the mom to a 9-year old girl, tells Babble that the Williams’ cover on display was tucked next to plenty of other publications that she thought were far more inappropriate for her young daughters. Celebrity break-ups, how to lose 20 pounds in 7 days, 1000 sex positions—now those are the kinds of things that she worries about her daughters getting caught exposed to.

magazine covers
Image Source: Michelle Villemaire

“If you want to censor something, censor that!” says Villemarie, “Not a powerful black athlete being proudly displaying her pregnant body.”

For real. Amen to that. Let’s hope that Gelson’s gets the message loud and clear that something like this is not okay, and that the image of Serena Williams is 100% natural, normal, and actually something to be revered and celebrated by all.

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