Sprinter Natasha Hastings Talks Embracing Nakedness, Being Inspired By Serena Williams

Chat with Olympic Gold Medalist Natasha Hastings for just five minutes and it becomes obvious why she’s a rock star. The New York native, also known as “The 400 M Diva,” is a trainer, a fitness model, a columnist for The Huffington Post and amazingly confident in her skin. She recently posed nude in ESPN’s “Body Issue” and has plans to land another gold medal in the 2012 Olympics. VIBE caught up with the sprinter to chat about how Serena Williams inspired her nude pics, where she channels confidence and why people shouldn’t be scared to embrace nakedness.

What was behind your decision to pose for ESPN’s “Body Issue?”

I knew right away when we got the phone call what the issue was and I never had a problem doing it because I always felt that the pictures were always done tastefully, and I felt it was a celebration of athletes’ bodies. With that, I didn’t just make the decision for myself. I spent a lot of time talking to my family. I expressed to them how I felt about the magazine and what it meant to me. I spoke to my boyfriend as well and made sure he was comfortable, so it was a joint family decision. Well, I won’t say it was a family decision because I made the decision for myself but they were included and I took all their thoughts and opinions into consideration before making a decision. Like I said, I liked that it was a celebration of athletes’ bodies and it’s done tastefully. It’s not anything explicit or out-of-order and I felt it would be a great opportunity.

How did you feel about your body before the shoot and did that change after you did it?

I felt good about my body before and I felt even better about it after. Growing up, I’ve always been lean; I’ve always been buff. And I dealt with being teased and people saying, “Oh, you look manly, you’re too hard,” but it never really brought me down or bothered me much because from a very early age, I understood that there’s goals on the track that I want to achieve and with achieving those goals comes putting in a certain amount of work, and with that work, I’m gonna look a certain way. But I embrace that I look the way I look and it’s helped me to achieve a lot of the things I have achieved. So when the picture came out, it was even more of an affirmation that, yeah I look like that—I’m buff, but I’m still beautiful and I’m still a woman, so I felt good but I felt even better when it came out.

What’s the feedback been like?

Even though I made the decision to do the magazine and I felt like it was a great opportunity, I was aware that there was a possibility for negative backlash—people not understanding where ESPN was coming from or where I was coming from, but oddly enough, I didn’t get any of those responses. All of the responses have been very positive. I did have one instance on Twitter where I had a conversation with someone where he was kind of on the fence about showing it to—I guess she was a preteen—but I don’t shy away from the dialogue and I explained to him that I don’t feel that the ESPN magazine is something that should be shown to a six-year-old, if they’re not old enough to understand the message behind the issue or they don’t have someone there to explain it to them. When I was growing up, my grandmother had naked pictures in her house. So we don’t shy away from nudity. It’s a beautiful thing because this is how God made us.

What’s your response to people who criticized Serena Williams for doing the body issue? Do you think people were harder on her because she’s a curvy woman?

Serena’s amazing the way she looks. Serena is sexy. I appreciate her body. She works hard at what she does and how she looks. Her fitness level is what has allowed her to achieve much of what she’s achieved in life and Serena’s pictures are some of the pictures that I looked at and felt that this was something that I could do. Her pictures were tastefully done and even though she’s got curves that’s just her. She’s still a woman but that doesn’t mean she’s any less beautiful or shouldn’t be photographed in that way. I remember, even before the ESPN magazine swimsuit shoot that she did, people were talking [negatively] about it and I was like we must not be looking at the same picture because I think her body is slammin! I think that’s the little box that society creates—that there’s one thing that’s beautiful. Being a size 0 and 100 pounds is beautiful, nuh uh. That’s why we’re dealing with people with eating disorders and low self-esteem, because we make people believe that one thing is beautiful. That’s not true. It’s important that women and young girls understand that this is how God made you. I think the sooner we embrace that and love that, the better off we’ll all be.

In terms of being healthy, you need a different type of nutrition than other people because you’re a professional athlete, but talk about what works for you in terms of your diet and training.

Like, you said because I am an athlete it’s a little on the extreme side but even for me—I’m the first to tell you—I’m an elite athlete and I do what I do but I enjoy a cheeseburger every now and then. I enjoy an ice cream cone every now and then. Across the board, I think the key to being fit or being healthy is portion size. A lot of times, people lapse and they fail on these diets because they go on these super strict diets and they’re actually punishing themselves instead of enjoying life and enjoying food and again, God created this food to taste this good for a reason so don’t punish yourself, but it’s all about portions and knowing when to stop and knowing when enough is enough. Realizing that everything in moderation is okay.

What’s your favorite way to workout when you’re not training?

Lately I really like Pilates because I’ve been running since I was 9-years-old. It’s my job and as much as I love it, it’s still great to break up things and do something different and Pilates challenges me in a way that I’m recruiting different muscles to use that I never even knew that I had and so I really like that. The other thing I really like is a spin class, but they have to play hip-hop music so that I can be upbeat and get a good sweat.

Speaking of getting a good sweat, you’re gearing up for the 2012 Olympics soon, right?

We still have the trials in June so it’s not official yet. Hopefully this time around, I will not only be on the relay but in the Open 400 as well and I’m just looking to make the podium and bolt to 400 in the relay so I can add some more gold to my collection.