For Naomi Osaka and Meghan Markle, It’s Not About Privacy. It’s About Mental Health

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Naomi Osaka became the first Black female athlete to appear on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover on Monday. Then, almost inevitably, she became the first Black female athlete to be shamed for it. “Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue,” Clay Travis, a talk radio host who replaced Rush Limbaugh, tweeted. Megyn Kelly, a person who was fired from NBC for defending Blackface, decided to pile on Osaka, who is Haitian and Japanese, adding: “Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!” Piers Morgan subsequently involved himself, as he is wont to do whenever there is an opportunity for bigotry.

Both Travis and Kelly (and, ugh, Morgan) know full well that Osaka didn’t just say she’s “too introverted” to talk to the media. When the 23-year-old withdrew from the French Open (and, later, Wimbledon) in May, she shared that she experienced “huge waves of anxiety” before addressing the tennis press, on top of “long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018,” when she was deluged with international attention for defeating her idol Serena Williams. The implication from the trolls is that it’s now hypocritical for Osaka to engage with the media at all—an intentionally dense, made-for-Twitter attack. Of course, Osaka is unveiling Barbies and appearing on magazine covers; she is one of the best tennis players in the world. She ostensibly said she wasn’t feeling mentally up for dissecting her wins and losses in a press-conference format, not that she intended to retire to a deserted island, never to be seen again. As Kelly and co. also know, magazine lead times are months ahead of publication dates—as Osaka said in a since-deleted tweet, before blocking Kelly, she shot SI and other covers last year, long before her recent hiatus. Her self-titled Netflix limited series was years in the making.

But the Osaka backlash isn’t about hypocrisy, anyway. It’s about diminishing a Black and Asian woman taking care of herself. And, sadly, Osaka isn’t the only bi-racial woman to experience this kind of social vitriol as of late. 

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Critics crow about “privacy” every time Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and/or Prince Harry, share a family photo or announce a new project—but detractors were especially emboldened after the landmark Oprah Winfrey interview in March, in which the couple explained they resigned as senior royals after a character assassination of Meghan by Britain’s tabloid media led her to experience suicidal ideation. “Meghan and Harry beg for privacy—but are hungry for attention,” one headline blared. “Harry and Meghan insist on privacy. Apart from when they’re the ones doing the dishing,” another claimed. But like Osaka, Meghan and Harry never asked for complete privacy. They asked for dignity. They asked to be free of a situation triggering depression and anxiety. They never said they didn’t want to be public people—just public people who aren’t subject to a torrent of racist and sexist abuse.

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