Sexy Athletes or Sex Objects? Effects of female athletes’ sexy images

Sexy Athletes or Sex Objects?

Effects of female athletes’ sexy images

by Sim Badesha

Previously, I commented on the fact that media represents many famous women athletes as sexual objects. I shared Daniels (2009) statements of how these athletes are controlled by the media to devalue them. If you haven’t been able to read Daniels research you might be thinking “how does this affect me directly?” In this blog I will share the effects of media images of sexy athletes on women, continuing with Daniels research (one of the few of its kind!) and sharing some personal experiences.

So the media reinforces its patriarchal domination over women by controlling female athletes’ images. By making strong, talented females objectified, they take away the women’s’ athleticism. This makes this of lesser value than male athletes. After all, sports are projected as a ‘man’s thing’. BUT how does this affect you, if you don’t really care for women’s sports? Whether or not you like it, you are exposed to up to 3000 images from the media daily (Joanna Chiu, 2012). Some of those images are going to stick, and psychologically affect the way you think about things.

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Above: Pool player Jeanette Lee. Although I love art and see the body as natural and beautiful…my own attention goes to Lee’s body rather than wondering about her ranking as a pool player.

According to Daniels (2009) there is a difference between looking at regular pictures of female athletes and sexualized images. The regular images, called ‘performance athlete images’, had a positive effect on women. Females that looked at these images felt empowered and were able to see what their bodies can do (rather than pose in bikinis). When looking at sexualized images of athletes, females felt they had to look like the female. Remember, these are athletes. They’ve put in years of work on their bodies through exercise and proper eating. When shown wearing skimpy outfits, women may begin to think that’s how they’re supposed to look; ignoring the time and effort spent on the body. Also, these women look this way because it’s their career. You’d look the same too if you had to practice your game five hours a day with a trainer. What’s more troubling is that the athletes are made to look feminine when sexualized. This gives girls and women the ideas of what’s feminine. In their article, Jones and Greer (2011) stated that “individuals make sense of society by developing expectations or schemas. They then internally and externally attempt to fit into the societal norm and base stereotypes on such schemas”. As a child I use to think that female athletes had to look like Anna Kournikova to be successful. When Maria Sharapova became a star, I was convinced this was true. How harmful would this have been to me if I was a young tennis player?

Amy Jones and Jennifer Greer (2011) found that participants rated basketball players “more likely to have muscles, be "butch," and be "bigger girls" than volleyball players”. Men followed gender schemas strongly by preferring to see masculine female athletes in masculine sports, and feminine female athletes in feminine sports (i.e. volleyball). They found female athletes participating in basketball to be perceived “by the media audience to be more masculine, than female athletes participating in volleyball”. One of the conclusions that Jones and Greer (2011) made was that “male media consumers are repelled at the thought of masculine female athletes participating in feminine sports, based on the negative media portrayal of masculine female athletes”.

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While waiting in line at an athletic store I could not help but hear the conversation behind me. The two females were complaining that the sporty clothing for women wasn’t sexy enough. I decided to keep my ears open to random chatter about this topic the next time I went shopping in such a store. Sure enough I came across young women complaining about the amount of “weird” (aka sporty) pants. They wanted pants that fit tight and sexy. Another time a girl wanted short shorts to make her summer outfits sexier. I can’t help but wonder where these women got the idea that they’re supposed to look sexy while working out. Or worse, some of them wanted the tightest pants they could fit into, to wear as normal clothes. You have to admit there’s no denying that there’s a connection from what they see through the media and what they begin to think is normal. You aren’t supposed to look like a model when you work out. There’s nothing wrong with looking or feeling sexy. What’s wrong is telling girls and women that they’re supposed to look a certain way in yoga pants.

Sim Badesha is participating in Violence, Media Representations and Families  a media literacy program joint initiative between Kwantlen Polytechnic University Sociology Department, First Voices and Battered Women’s Support Services

3 Responses to Sexy Athletes or Sex Objects? Effects of female athletes’ sexy images

  1. C. Hudson says:

    This garbage has been going on for some time now. It is a societal response to masculine women in sports and sexualizing women in sports is less ‘threatening’ to men. I played for the IWFL for a short time- until the coach suggested that we pose in bathing suits, and make a calendar. Then he suggested selling jell-o shooters in a bar- I then promptly quit the team. Men initiated the ‘lingerie league’- probably in response to the IWFL. I am so sick of the tactics and bad behavior that men have been exhibiting toward women lately. I have never been so disgusted w/ the male gender as I am now! The fact is, men ‘monetarily’ reward women for being sluts! Pure and simple. Men have no respect- for themselves or women. I am this close to moving to an all-women community in Oregon; I’ve already looked into it!

  2. Marc says:

    So when women in sports are sexualized by the media it’s men’s fault, but when women at the gym choose to sexualize themselves it’s… also men’s fault. Interesting.

  3. aaron says:

    I don’t agree with all of the conclusions and assumptions in this particular article, but yes Marc, obviously women “choosing to sexualize themselves” is often because of the ways they are viewed and valued by men or the way they percieve they are viewed and valued by men in society and by society itself. They have either internalized the views of men or feel captive to them. Where you might say they are responding to the views of other women those other women’s views are shaped and formed by or responding to the views of men and society shaped and ran by men. I think there’s much more complexity to it then that though, more than is ever addressed in articles on the subject.