The Naked Truth About Serena Williams

Her decision to pose nude diminishes her accomplishments and plays to the perception that black female bodies are pornographic.

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Getty Images/HuffingtonPost.com

With tantalizing pictures of black bodies on its cover, ESPN, the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports,” contributes more to “jungle fever” among white men than arguably any other mainstream media outlet. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the nude body of Serena Williams graces the cover of the body edition, scheduled to hit newsstands today.

The real surprise is that Serena Williams allowed herself to be revealed in such a way.

Just a month ago, Serena Williams discussed in People magazine how insecure she felt about her body. Specifically, she talked about how masculine her arms were, and how her thighs made her think she needed to lose weight. Why the turnaround? How did she go from being guarded and insecure about her body one month, to a confident, overexposed exhibitionist the next? Perhaps she believed that by posing nude she would empower other young women with images of strength and sensuality.

Undoubtedly, Serena's decision to appear in her birthday suit will encourage some women to say “You Go Girl,” but I don't believe that empowering women had anything to do with it.

These images were not created with a female audience in mind. If that were among the main concerns, then these images would be gracing the cover of Essence or O magazine. Instead, Williams chose to publish the most controversial photo of her career in a men's magazine, one that caters primarily to white men. ESPN the Magazine is a men's magazine. Of its 14 million readers, 11 million—or more than 80 percent—are male. More importantly, a good number of the readers are young—between the ages of 18-24.

We have to wonder what white men will do with these images. Will they see a strong confident black woman in control of her sexuality? Or will this picture remind them of the sexuality and sensuality seen all too often in hip-hop where black women are oiled and shiny objects? Will it remind them of all the taboo things they were taught growing up about what black women will do that white women won’t.

The naked truth is that this picture will raise more than just eyebrows among men— particularly white men. Unfortunately, it will also communicate that no matter how talented, or accomplished she or other woman become, what she really needs most is to be attractive to men. This is a step backward.

At a time when women like Michelle Obama can barely go outside without being scrutinized for the little skin she reveals, it’s difficult to see how pictures like these do not contribute to some enhanced pornographic idea of black women.

Jewel Woods is the founder and executive director of The Renaissance Male Project, Inc. a non-profit advocacy and accountability organization for men and boys.

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