Last Wednesday, 18-year-old rising tennis star Taylor Townsend destroyed 21st-ranked Alize Cornet in the French Open. But she didn’t simply extend her debut performance, she also got the world talking about issues of body image.
Townsend is hardly obese, but to many she is considered “plus sized”. Whether or not that is an appropriate description of her build is part of the conversation… or debate, depending on your position.
Townsend’s feat made her the youngest U.S. woman to advance to the third round in the French Open in 11 years. But only two years ago the U.S. Tennis Association attempted to keep her out of the competition at the U.S. Open entirely.
The U.S. Tennis Association originally said that they would not grant support of her until the teen – who was then the top-ranked junior player in the world – went on a diet. That’s right: in spite of her spectacular performance. The USTA said that she looked too big for them to back her.
Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program, said back then to the Wall Street Journal’s Tom Perrotta, that “Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player.”
But Townsend, then 16-years-old, went to the tournament anyway. She said she would play whether she had the USTA’s support or not. This, however, forced her family to pay for her travel costs alone… all because of her weight. That’s when she won the junior doubles title and advanced to the quarterfinals in the singles division.
She then won the singles and doubles titles at Junior Australian Open, the junior doubles title at Wimbledon that same year… The USTA knew they were not looking very good.
Then, Serena Williams, a household name in tennis, spoke out, saying that she too had been criticized for her weight. She said that the treatment of Townsend was “obviously a tragedy, because everyone deserves to play.”
“For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, and African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary,” Williams said to the Associated Press. “Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour.”
Townsend has since stopped working with coaches from the USTA and now divides her time training with former Wimbledon runner-up Zina Garrison in Washington as well as training with a former collegiate player Kamau Murray, from Chicago, who she has known and been training with from an early age.
Since making the USTA look incredibly stupid to many, the organization has reimbursed Townsend’s mother for their travel costs to the 2012 U.S. Open. Townsend says that she and the organization have since reconciled, but she still plans to train with her own coaches, rather than those from the organization.
(Article by James Achisa)