Initially, I just wanted to take Pop Culture for my Sophomore Inquiry class because I thought it would be an easy A, yet interesting at the same time. This class has actually turned out to be very hard, but very beneficial. Through Pop Culture, I have learned the importance of thinking critically and questioning what I am seeing or reading. These skills were utilized while analyzing how the media portrays a certain part of my identity, an athlete, and also while analyzing different perspectives on a subject and the psychology behind advertising.
Individuals are made up of their many different identities. I am a daughter, sister, student, barista, athlete and shopaholic. I chose to focus on media’s portrayal of female athletes for my essay. When female athletes are portrayed in the media, the focus is on feminine characteristics, especially regarding appearance, and sexualizing them instead picturing them as strong, accomplished athletes they are. Aimee Lamourex summarizes my main point very well in her blog post on WordPress: “Girls also see a double standard in covering women’s sports. When male athletes receive media attention, such coverage is primarily focused on their skills and performance. When female athletes receive media attention, the media is much more likely to focus on their physical attractiveness or non-sport-related activities” (Lamourex).
How are these pictures showing her as an athlete when they nothing do with the fact that Rousey is number one fighter in her weight class? This is where the problem arises: focus on sex appeal, rather than athletic achievement.
Matthew Curtis, who wrote his entire college thesis about the portrayal of US athletes in the Olympics, summarizes the qualities that were focused on in women’s sports were “emphasized aesthetics- grace, form, and beauty” (Curtis). I found a similar example of this on the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue 2015.
The US Olympic Swimmer, Natalie Coughlin, is shown above. Is one supposed to infer that she is a swimmer just because she is sitting in water? Here, ESPN is not advertising Coughlin as an athlete, but advertising her body instead.
Finally, what I think is the ultimate example of the sexualization of women’s sports is summed up in the following clip: Lingerie Football League:
Why do female athletes allow themselves to be portrayed this way? Some possibilities are more money, increased popularity, branding, and it may just be their form of self-empowerment. I think the main reason female athletes are portrayed this way is because provocativeness attracts the most attention in a day where attention spans are so short. It gives them exposure and popularity, something that is sometimes hard to come by in women’s sports, but does it really make them a more credible athlete? No; it may increase their popularity, but decrease their reputation, especially amongst other women. These athletes have an opportunity to be role models for thousands of girls and women; however, by allowing the media to portray them this way just sends the message to girls that they have to take their clothes off to be popular.
To accurately access media’s representation of female athletes, it is vital to consider their role in how they are portrayed as well. In the paragraph above, I mentioned that some woman display themselves, such as the ones pictured above, because it empowers them as women. Because these women do so much with their bodies every single day, showing it off might not seem like a big deal. It’s a way of celebration and showcasing their success. Swimmer Ashley Tappin echoes this saying “We’re healthy. We’re fit. And we are not just cute; we do good things with our bodies. They are functional. Why not show them off?” (Sexploitation). Women in athletics face the challange of balancing their femininity and their athleticism, so sports are a question of “how do you maintain femininity?”. While some female athletes want to show off their bodies, the marketing and branding of a female athlete is a game of who is sexy enough to be advertised. Some choose to capitalize on this, and some don’t. Some athletes are okay with using their bodies for exposure; it is just an individual decision.
The bottom line is, these women shouldn’t have to make this decision: media should advertise these women based on what they are: athletes. As much as provocative advertising can help these women become more recognizable, it doesn’t actually increase their popularity or following as athletes. So, it is not sex, but talent that sells. (Fagan).
Some companies are beginning to recognize, and respect this. Nike, in particular, encourages women empowerment, not through showing off their bodies, but showing off what their bodies can do. One famous example of this is Nike’s ad featuring tennis star Maria Sharapova. Sharapova is famous for being one of the pretty faces of the tennis world. The ad mocks the way media has focused on her appearance, and shows why she is really famous: her talent.
Additionally, there is coverage of women athletes that don’t mention a word about their appearance.
Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn started a charity called the Lindsay Vonn Foundation to help support programs that help empower young girls and increase their self-confidence.
This brings me to one of my biggest learning moments for the term: considering both sides of a story. This importance of this became especially apparent when analyzing news and current events in week 5. One of my classmates exhibited this very well, using the example of the Portland housing market. I never even considered that someone could think it was anything but terrible:
*…As a person who is easily influenced by information, I think my consumption of news hinders my perspectives and actions. For example, my step-dad is a housing developer in Portland and has been responsible for the demolition of many homes in the city. Having just read a strongly worded, biased article from Willamette Weekly about the destruction, the evils of gentrification, and what kind of city Portland is turning into, I spoke to him about my concerns. I was very surprised when I was met with an entirely different point of view and set of facts that the article did not include. Although I am still on the fence about whether or not housing development is good for the city, it was an important conversation to have with my step-dad because it reminded me to always ask questions, stay curious, and not let any one person or source determine your belief in something. Even your own parents.
The comment posted by my classmate helped me realize the importance of considering both sides of a story. I never even considered that someone could think different. I think this experience will prevent me from being so black and white about certain subjects in the future.
Another significant learning moment of mine was when we analyzed John Berger’s “Way of Seeing”. This was probably the biggest wake up call of the class. Not only did the tactics he described help me analyze advertisements more effectively for my mirror insight, but also he stated the all too real truth of the psychology behind the advertising/purchasing pattern. I think he encapsulates my whole response process to media and advertisements perfectly. At the root, everyone wants to be glamorous and beautiful, to be envied, to have status…. That is what drives me to continue to buy and buy and buy. As bad as it sounds to some people, appearance will tell you a lot about a person (which is why I think way the women athletes pictured above bother me so much). I want to appear as someone who has it all together, that is fashionable and confidant and most of all, worthy. These are the feelings advertisers prey on. They tell me “if you use this perfume, it will make you sexy”, “if you have this kind of jeans, it means you’re classic”, “if you pose in this bikini, guys will give you more attention”… The list goes on. The difference is, and what I learned from Ways of Seeing, was that I can analyze these messages advertisers are trying to sneak into their ads, and respond to them less emotionally and more rationally.
Analyzing how media portrays parts of my identity, gave me a better perspective to why these parts of portrayed this way, the effect it has on me, and the effect it has on others. From my research, I have learned that female athletes are objectified, the focus on their aesthetics and physical appearance, rather than athletic ability. Despite this, there are efforts to counteract this kind of advertising. Companies, such as Nike and Under Armour, are focusing on empowering women and rather than displaying them. Through this essay and significant learning moments, I have learned to interpret media messages more effectively, in turn making more rational decisions and not just being comfortable accepting the way media shows something, but analyzing the reasons it might be shown the way it is.
Curtis, Matthew K. “America’s Heroes and Darlings: The Media Portrayal of Male and Female Athletes During the 2014 Sochi Games.” BYU Scholars Archive. Brigham Young University, 31 May 2104. Web. 7 Nov. 2015.
Fagan, Kate. “Sex Sells? Trend May Be Changing.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Lamourex, Aimee. “How the Media Portrays Female Athletes.” How the Media Portrays Female Athletes. 22 Apr. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2015.
“Ronda Rousey Swimsuit Photos, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2015.” Sports Illustrated. 1 June 2015. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
“Sexploitation: Helpful or Harmful in Female Athletics.” The Communique. University of California, San Diego. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.
Stanek, Becca. “The Lindsey Vonn Foundation Empowers Girls & Sets An Excellent Example Of Overcoming Obstacles.” Bustle. Web. 8 Nov. 2015
Williams + Hirakawa. Natalie Coughlin- Bodies We Want 2015. N.d. ESPN Body 2015. ESPN GO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015. <http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/13174028/image/37/natalie-coughlin-bodies-want-2015>.