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This is Serena Williams' Important Body-Positive Message for Young Women

With a grueling tennis season behind her, Grand Slam boss Serena Williams is taking some much-needed time to herself. "This season, in particular, I had a lot of time off, and I've got to tell you, I really needed it," she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. "I really kind of needed it this last year but I couldn't take that time. It's a grind, it's 10 to 11 months of non-stop working."

 

That "i know you not talkin' to me" face

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

When the 35-year-old is not too busy making tennis history, she's known to spread some much-needed body positivity with her fans — young girls in particular.

"It's who I am, and I want people to be proud of who they are," she says. "Too many times young women are told that they're not good enough or they don't look good enough, or they shouldn't do this, or they shouldn't look like that. Really there's no one who should judge that except for you, and in general, that's the message that I want people to see." (Read: Serena Williams' Top 5 Body Image Quotes)

As a part of that message, Serena and her sister Venus Williams recently unveiled a refurbished tennis court in Compton, California, with hopes of inspiring the younger generation to take up tennis.

"We grew up in Compton, and we wanted to try to give back to the community in a way that we knew how, and in a way that will really impact the youth there," she says. "Honestly, to do this has been really great and shaped my life in ways that I never would have felt. Not everybody has an opportunity to play sports, tennis in particular, and maybe it can shape their lives too."

Serena's desire to inspire and encourage young women to pursue their dreams comes from a long history of being subjected to harsh criticism about her looks. Despite her uncanny ability to amaze on the court, haters and trolls often choose to focus on her appearance rather than her talent, and she wants to change that.

"People are entitled to have their opinions, but what matters most is how I feel about me," she told The Fader while responding to haters. "You have to love you, and if you don't love you, no one else will. And if you do love you, people will see that, and they'll love you too." That's something we can all get behind.

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