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These 3 Athletes Are Body Positive Role Models We Can All Look up To 

Published on October 21, 2022

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Gymnast Alexandra Raisman doing splits in the air

Serena Williams, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Aly Raisman are all body positive role models who have spoken up about accepting themselves, just as they are.  

Body Positive Athletes Who Inspire People to Love Themselves  

Find out more about these exceptional athletes and how they inspire people to love themselves – inside and out.  

Serena Williams 

Recently retired tennis legend Serena Williams is widely recognized as one of the greatest athletes of all time. Throughout her career, while winning four Olympic gold medals and 23 Grand Slam singles, she’s also been subjected to racialized, sexualized and dehumanizing attacks about her body.  

Despite the frequent barrage of personal attacks, her confidence never wavered, and she’s always used her voice to call out systemic prejudice and encourage others to love themselves.   

“[But] I’ve never been a person that has been like, ‘I want to be a different colour’ or ‘I want my skin tone to be lighter.’ I like who I am, I like how I look, and I love representing the beautiful dark women out there. For me, it’s perfect. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she told Vogue in an interview.  

She recalls being told she was “not pretty enough” to be a tennis player: “When I was growing up, what was celebrated was different,” Williams said. “Venus looked more like what is really acceptable: she has incredibly long legs, she’s really, really thin. I didn’t see people on TV that looked like me, who were thick. There wasn’t a positive body image. It was a different age.”  

Ibtihaj Muhammad 

An entrepreneur, activist, speaker and Olympic medalist in fencing, Ibtihaj Muhammad went down in history in 2016 when she became the first Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympics wearing a hijab. Muhammad is a trailblazer in her sport and wants other Muslim women to know they belong in competitive sports.   

“We exist. For the Olympic team, for the United States, I’ve changed the narrative for the Muslim community in the way that we’ve been perceived. And if you take that a step further and look at the way Muslim women see themselves, these young girls who haven’t had anyone at this level of sport do that on the world stage — compete at the highest level of sport. To do that is changing the way Muslim women think about themselves and perceive themselves,” she said in an interview with New York Times.  

The world was so inspired by the Olympian that a Barbie doll was created after her – complete with fencing mask and hijab. Muhammad was delighted, praising the way Mattel modeled the Barbie after her body.  

“I guess Mattel is moving forward and changing this traditional way that Barbie has been made in the past,” she told Andscape. “They have dolls now in different sizes. My Barbie doll isn’t tall and, like, really leggy. My doll has these more toned, athletic legs, which are more reflective to the body type of myself and other athletes. I hope that this creates a more positive image, especially in terms of the body image for young girls who play with the doll.” 

Aly Raisman   

Retired American artistic gymnast and two-time Olympian Aly Raisman has spoken up about how social media has contributed to placing unrealistic expectations about body image on women. She wants women to keep it real with themselves and embrace their natural beauty.  

In 2017, the gymnast endured a body shaming incident at an airport. An airport employee questioned if Raisman was a gymnast after staring at her body. The uncomfortable experience showed Raisman there’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to body positivity.  

Just two weeks after the incident, she posted a photo of herself in a bathing suit, with a message of embracing how you look.  

“Wear whatever makes you feel happy and confident. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t dress,” she shared in the Instagram post. “We are all entitled to wear what we want. Females do not have to dress modest to be respected.” 

Lead image credit: Photo of Alexandra Raisman by Secretaria Especial do Esporte is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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The Author
Conchita is a Toronto-based writer with a background in journalism. She has written for outlets such as CTV, Avenue Magazine and Maclean’s. Conchita enjoys pop culture, travelling and jogging alongside Toronto’s waterfront.