Women Athletes as Sex Symbols

Blog #2 , Section 10

While glancing through our class’s blog, a fellow classmate’s comment got me thinking. The blog addressed the much-discussed issue of women in athletics. As we already read, Mika Lavaque-Manty discusses women’s inferior role in sports in much detail in Chapter 5 of “The Playing Fields of Eton.” The issue has been made clear; there is a definite division between males and females when it comes to sports. However, a new thought grabbed my attention: the sexualization of women athletes.

For some time, women athletes were seen as almost shocking. Due to the fact that it was rare to have a female star athlete, many times society categorized women as masculine and homosexual. While Title IX helped to encourage female’s participation in sports and tried to diminish this dilemma, the issue of sexualization amongst female athletes still remains a problem.

An incredible catch featured on the news.

An incredible catch featured on the news.

Every day, men are seen in the media for their incredible plays and on-the-field stints. Turn on ESPN; I guarantee a highlight of the latest spectacular catch or goal will flash onto the screen. I also guarantee that featured athlete is a male.

Not only are females featured in the media significantly less often than males are, they are seen in a completely different manner. Female athletes are too often featured for their sex appeal, rather then their athletic abilities. Countless forms of media, ranging from magazine editions such as ESPN Magazine’s “The Body Issue” and Sports Illustrated’s “Swim Suit Edition,” to television commercials, portray women as sex symbols rather than athletes. It’s quite often you see female athletes seductively sipping various products in advertisements. The media’s prioritizing of sex appeal over athletic talents gives the wrong impression of female athletes to on-lookers.

Dara Torres, an olympic swimmer, poses for "Got Milk?"

Dara Torres, an olympic swimmer, poses for “Got Milk?”

Professional athletes, regardless of gender, put an incredible amount of time and effort in to achieve their dreams. This effort, however, is diminished by the media’s representation of female athletics. In the rare cases of fans falling in love with athletes that are women, it’s most likely for their sexual appeal and beauty, rather than their athletic success. The poses that are featured on magazine covers worldwide fall just short of pornography. Often, men are seen in advertisements in their respective uniforms, swinging a bat, kicking a ball, or doing whatever they are known for. Women, however, are seen with no uniform, with their clothing or equipment covering just enough skin.

Lavaque-Manty touches on this same idea: “one thing about sport… is that is says something in addition to what it does: whether it changes people’s attitudes and beliefs, whether it hides existing practices of discrimination and oppression, its symbolic message matters as a kind of political recognition” (151). Photographing female athletes in this manner sends a message to viewers. Spectators no longer see the women as athletes, but now picture them as scandalous models. These women become sex symbols, and the talent that got them to an elite stage is nearly forgotten.

Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn poses for "Sports Illustrated."

Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn poses for Sports Illustrated.

Take Lindsey Vonn for example. She is often regarded as the best female ski racer in American history. Vonn became the first American to ever capture the gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics- a truly incredible feat. But what has she become? Yet another sex symbol. Shortly after winning the gold medal, Vonn was featured in Sports Illustrated. Placed perfectly on a glimmering mountaintop, Vonn smiles at the camera. Her teeth, of course, are perfectly white, and her body seems just about flawless.The emphasis that is put on her beauty and femininity diminishes the article’s initial focus on her skiing talent.

On the contrary, these athletes must agree at some point to pose in this manner. I’m sure they like being portrayed so “beautifully.” I don’t doubt that the female athletes like this fame that comes hand and hand with their success. Being photographed and earning huge amounts of money for doing so doesn’t sound too bad. The real problem, however, is only seeing these athletes for their bodies, not their talents.

Female athletes line the cover of ESPN Magazine.

Female athletes line the cover of ESPN Magazine.

To be completely honest, when the latest magazine edition featuring an athlete arrives in my mail, I don’t think much about what the photograph says. It looks like just another model to me. But there’s an issue right there- these stars aren’t supposed to be models. They’re athletes. And that’s what they should be treated as. Sure, it’s a nice perk to gain fame as a model. But the effort, time, and wear on the body that an athlete endures should not be forgotten. The next step to close the gap between men and women in sports must address the sexualization of female athletes.

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2 thoughts on “Women Athletes as Sex Symbols

  1. I like your post, but one thing that I think is taken a little out of context is your point about ESPN the magazine’s body issue. I think it’s true that female athletes are often portrayed as sex symbols, but I also think it’s worth mentioning that ESPN magazine’s body issue has just as many naked men in it. The point of the magazine is not to sexually objectify women (or men for that matter), it is to expose the beauty of that athlete’s body. The point of them being naked is so that you can admire the body that makes their body of work possible. For me, when I read the body issue of ESPN the magazine, I am looking at something that transcends sexuality and is just beautiful. The perfectly toned bodies of the athletes that are in there, male and female, are just a testament to the amount of hard work it takes to get them that way. Most men would probably want the type of toned body that Colin Kaepernick has (http://img.bleacherreport.net/img/article/media_slots/photos/000/959/989/kaep2_crop_exact.png?w=650&h=432&q=85), but since most men can’t devote every day to training to get that body, ESPN the body magazine gives us the insight to appreciate the truly outstanding amount of hard work it takes to get that body. I think the photos are often very well done also. They often show the athlete doing something similar to what they would be doing if they had a uniform on (http://a.espncdn.com/media/motion/2014/0707/dm_140703_COM_MLB_Feature_ESPN_The_Magazine_2014_B1010/dm_140703_COM_MLB_Feature_ESPN_The_Magazine_2014_B1010.jpg). So, while I agree with your point overall, I think one example is slightly flawed.

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  2. To be honest, I had never really thought about the sexualization of female athletes until I read your blog post, so thank-you for making me aware of a phenomenon I had been previously ignorant to. You provide an extremely effective argument as to how women are, incorrectly, displayed as sex symbols instead of the hardworking athletes they identify as. I recently watched Miss Representation, a documentary showing the alarming disparity between the representation of women and men in the media. Everything you claim agrees with the argument made in the documentary- that women are seen as valuable if they appear and act like the sex symbols that society asks them to be. Great post!

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