• 11.30.15

    Platon Sees Serena Williams' Humanity

    Back in September, Serena Williams took to the court with the expectation of winning the semifinals on her way to another Grand Slam victory. But in an incredible upset, she lost. She was far and away the favorite to win, and had lined up all the endorsement deals and partnerships that come with those kinds of expectations, and they were still on even after Serena lost. One of the most creatively significant partnerships was Serena’s post as guest editor for Wired Magazine. As her career has progressed, she’s become involved in more varied outlets from the athletic sciences, to empowering other women, to charitable outreach, and beyond. Her voice is valuable whether she wins every title or not, so the issue went full steam ahead. But when Platon met up with her to photograph the cover the day after her shocking loss, she still carried that loss with her.

    “She was physically exhausted and I think spiritually and emotionally exhausted,” says Platon. “So what I ended up getting wasn’t really a broken person, but a gentle person. Because of her loss I was able to cut through that façade of toughness that she always seems to maintain and I actually got the compassion and the tenderness of a human being. That was the real deal that day. She was exhausted in every possible sense. And in rather painful way for her, it allowed me to capture something that no one else has captured.”

    The gentle energy that came off Serena that day was contrasted by her physical presence, the tangible result of her long career. She seems almost superhuman, but what Platon found is that she’s not superhuman at all. Instead, thousands of hours, focus, and struggle come together to create the human form that she is. Work that might seem impossible for most of us.

    “When you meet her you’re dumbfounded at her physical power,” Platon explains. “I’ve never met a man or woman that had that kind of incredible, beautiful, muscular physique. But as I discovered time and time again, it’s an illusion of supremacy. At the end of the day she is just a human being. There is no such thing as a super human person. I think what I realized that day is the toll it takes to stay at that level, or reach that level. And I think that makes her achievements all the greater because it’s a reminder to me that she is just a human being. She’s not superhuman, really, nobody is. She’s just super dedicated and super talented, but she’s still a human being and she hurts like the rest of us.”

    “We often love to fanaticize about other peoples’ successes and it lets us off the hook,” says Platon. “As if they are somehow granted opportunities that we are just not ever able to achieve, so we needn’t bother trying and let them continue this journey of perfection, stardom, glamour, superiority. And it affects us because we always need to be reminded that if someone achieves great things it’s normally in spite of adversity. Adversity and frailty is very much in the formula of this person’s success, they just had the courage and the dedication to work through it. And that’s a hard thing for us to understand because if we really come to terms with that then perhaps we could all do better. And that’s not just in terms of athletic achievement but as global responsible citizens. So I think it’s a picture of someone showing their frailty, their compassion, their tenderness, as well as their strengths and you can’t really measure your strengths until you’ve acknowledged that you’re an ordinary human being and you hurt just like the rest of us. It makes her more courageous, I just captured the toll it takes.”

    Serena Williams’ message of equality that she offers in her guest-edited issue of Wired reminds us that we have a certain kind of equality to her. That we are not allowed to take it easy because we could or would never achieve what Serena has achieved. Certainly. It’s exceedingly likely that it is too late for us to become her peer on a tennis court, but we each have our courts and it is Serena who reminds us that the path is obstructed only by ourselves.

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