I raise all of my kids to be kind. To be honest. To stand up for what’s right. And to work hard. But there’s a special fire that burns deep within me when it comes to my daughter. It’s not that I won’t fight to the death for her brothers, because I sure will. But I feel a different responsibility to her — to make sure she feels strong. That she can do anything. That she can take care of herself. And that she knows how amazing girls and women are. So when I saw the letter Serena Williams wrote to her mother about her new baby girl, I understood. I can see that same fire burning as I read her words.
In it, the 13-time Grand Slam tennis champion credits her own mother for being “one of the strongest women I know.” And she says that her new daughter Alexis Olympia, whom she welcomed home just days ago, is strong as well.
“She has my arms and legs!” she writes. “My exact same strong, muscular, powerful, sensational arms and body.”
This should be a good thing, right? Why wouldn’t she want her daughter to be strong and muscular and powerful? Well, unfortunately, as Serena Williams knows all too well, strength and power come with a price — if you’re a girl.
Williams goes on to explain how that same strong, powerful body has also become the source of teasing over the years.
“I’ve been called a man because I appeared outwardly strong,” she continues. “It has been said that that I use drugs (No, I have always had far too much integrity to behave dishonestly in order to gain an advantage). It has been said I don’t belong in Women’s sports — that I belong in Men’s — because I look stronger than many other women do. (No, I just work hard and I was born with this badass body and proud of it).”
So how did her mom do it? Williams wonders. How did her mom keep her head high and her integrity intact as her daughter was ridiculed by people who were “too ignorant to understand the power of a black woman”? She hopes she’s able to do the same, as her daughter will inevitably face the same treatment. She’ll most likely be considered “too big,” “too strong,” “too muscular,” “too manly,” “too black.”
But despite not knowing how her mom had the strength to the be the kind of mother she was, Serena says that she’s thankful. Because of her mom, Serena grew up to be proud of herself — and “proud we were able to show them what some women look like.”
“We don’t all look the same,” she continues. “We are curvy, strong, muscular, tall, small, just to name a few, and all the same: we are women and proud!”
Williams goes on to thank her mom for showing her class and grace, and being the role model she needed throughout her life. But she also asks her mom to promise to still be there for her, teaching her how to be a strong, yet gentle mother to her own little girl — because she’s not done needing her yet.
Full of honesty, humility, and that new-mom fear so many of us know too well, this letter speaks to so many of us who are raising girls. And it especially speaks to moms who are raising girls of color.
I thank Williams for being a role model for my daughter, too. For showing her what a strong, confident woman looks like. For setting a different standard for beauty. And frankly, for just plain kicking ass.
Serena, I’d be honored if my daughter grew up emulating you. And I think Alexis Olympia will end up writing a letter just like this one some day, thanking you for raising her to be a strong, powerful girl who is proud of everything she is, both inside and out.
You can read Williams’ heartfelt letter in full over on Reddit.