The Media's Sexualization of Female Athletes: A Bad Call for the Modern Game

By Emily Liang
2011, Vol. 3 No. 10 | pg. 2/2 |

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[1] As of 1997, about 135,000 women played college sports, compared to only 30,000 in 1971, and about 2.4 million girls played high school sports, compared to only 300,000 in 1971 (Harvard Law Review 1627).

[2] Still, the media have been slow to reflect the increase in participation in women’s sports. As of 1990, only 3.5 percent of all sports column inches and 5 percent of newscasts covered women’s sports (Messner, Duncan, and Jensen 123).

[3] In the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Lindsey Vonn won gold and bronze medals in the downhill and Super-G events, respectively. Perhaps now known more for her looks than for her performance on the slopes, she has posed for Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition and Maxim. Just two weeks ago in November for ESPN The Magazine, she dressed as the actress Sharon Stone in the famous interrogation scene from the Basic Instinct. Other athletes also imitated scenes from classic films for this photo shoot, but Vonn and ESPN soon came under fire because in the provocative scene, Stone, who is wearing a tight white dress, uncrosses her legs to reveal that she is not wearing underwear.

[4] The numerous athletes who maintain the attitude that the media’s sexualization brings in money while celebrating athleticism and strength include Brandi Chastain, who scored the winning goal in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and Jenny Thompson, a swimmer who won twelve Olympic medals, eight of them gold (Carty 137-138). Former athletes, such as 1956 Olympic champion runner Betty Cuthbert, also emphasized their femininity not only to gain publicity and profit, but also to oppose claims that she was only a “flat-chested” athlete with “muscles [and] bulging biceps” (Prakash 25).

[5] Compared to other athletes, WNBA players, such as Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie, tend to avoid sexualized representations. One notable exception to the growing sexualization of beach volleyball players is two-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh, who has declined photo shoots for magazines like For Him Magazine (Boswell).

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