Naomi OSaka at the 2021 US Open in a bright yellow dress and black cap

Naomi Osaka’s comments on being “humble” prove the sexist standards around female success

Posted by for Strength

Following her first-round win at the US Open, Naomi Osaka shares a message about overcoming imposter syndrome.

At just 23 years old, Naomi Osaka has won four Grand Slam championships, been the highest-paid sportswoman for two years in a row, and became the first tennis player to light an Olympic cauldron. While you might think that gives her all the bragging rights in the world, the opposite is actually true: Osaka suffers from imposter syndrome.

“Internally I think I’m never good enough,” the athlete wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “I’ve never told myself that I’ve done a good job but I do know that I constantly tell myself that I suck or I could do better. 

“I know in the past some people have called me humble but if I really consider it I think I’m incredibly self deprecating. Everytime a new opportunity arises my first thought is, ‘wow, why me?’”

It’s a feeling most of us can relate to – particularly as women. A 2020 study found that 75% of executive women have experienced imposter syndrome at various points during their careers. While there’s no evidence to suggest that being on the world stage or in an athletic career further emphasises imposter syndrome, it wouldn’t be a silly guess that the huge pressure for Osaka to always be ‘on’ would heighten her anxieties.

Notably for Osaka, she’s come under huge personal and professional critique from the media in her time as a pro player, particularly after withdrawing from the French Open earlier this year for her mental health

Naomi Osaka on the tennis court with her head back
Naomi Osaka has suffered imposter syndrome despite being a hugely successful athlete

Osaka’s tweets expose a problem with the way we view female success. She points out that her ‘modesty’ has been celebrated, yet she’s really been going through a crisis of confidence. It’s the same sexism we see time and time again: women are told not to be too proud, passionate or successful. Osaka has probably absorbed that messaging from years of watching those who came before her: Serena Williams dubbed too aggressive and too political for expressing herself on and off-court. 

But now feels like a turning point for Osaka. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m gonna try to celebrate myself and my accomplishments more, I think we all should,” she added in her tweet. “I know I give my heart to everything I can and if that’s not good enough for some then my apologies but I can’t burden myself with those expectations anymore.”

Proving herself as the champion she is, she went on court this morning to claim a straight-sets victory in the US Open. After the match, she told reporters that she felt ​​”really comfortable” playing in a stadium with a big crowd. A huge step for her, and an important message for other women to hear. Because while we may not be heading out to play in international competitions, Osaka noted that the small wins are important to beat the feeling that we don’t deserve to succeed.

“You got up in the morning and didn’t procrastinate on something? Champion. Figured something out at work that’s been bugging you for a while? Absolute legend. Your life is your own and you shouldn’t value yourself on other people’s standards,” she said.  

Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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