Female Athletes in the Media


One aspect of my identity is that I am a female athlete. I was interested to see how this part of who I am would be portrayed in the media. Women in general are often sexualized in the eyes of the media, so I figured I would find many articles which sexualized women. Upon my first endeavor researching for the project I found that when searching “female athletes” in the Google search engine on the first page 6/10 articles regarded which female athletes are thought to be the “hottest”. By analyzing numerous sources I found that the media often sexualizes female athletes, but is now starting to show more appreciation for their accomplishments. This is important because the media’s portrayal of identities effects the mindset of people in our society.

Primary Sources

The internet has numerous lists of “who’s the hottest” and female athletes  are no exception. The example I chose listed who the author thought were the top 50 hottest athletes of the year, but there were also articles that went up to top 100. The article featured photos of the women, often in revealing clothes, and a small description of accomplishments usually accompanied by something that was objectifies her looks. For example, for Serena Williams it simply said, “You know who she is, especially if you like booty.” Even though there is some actual information about most of the athlete’s accomplishments, the focus of the article is on their looks. Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 2.46.17 PM

The focus is on the photographs, and in almost every picture the women have revealing clothes, similar or more revealing as Jessica Ennis’ photo to the left. Not only does media tend to chose these revealing picture of women, but in general many women’s sports uniforms have limited coverage. I cheered for Portland State during the 2016-17 season, and naturally our uniforms were very reaving. Cropped tops, and tight short skirts. An an individual I feel confident in this uniform, but I know the team is sexualized. At one basketball game during the past season, I heard an older man referring to our team saying “they’re all virgins, I can tell.” I felt so appalled and violated. In the moment I felt an impulse to yell at the audience member, but I did not want to cause a scene and look unprofessional. Its sad to see so directly how people think its okay to sexualize female athletes. Many female athletes are sexualized by what they wear and the media takes advantage of it.

Nike Ad : Unlimited Greatness ft. Serena Williams

The next source I chose to look at was an advertisement by Nike. It is not for a specific Nike product, but instead is an ad focused on the accomplishments of female tennis player Serena Williams. This ad shows how the media is actually starting to show more support by female athletes, by showing appreciation of their accomplishments. The video uses single words shown one after another used to take the viewer on a journey through Serena Williams’ life and career. At the end of the ad the viewer sees Williams’ face where it says “greatest female athlete ever” and then the word “female” disappears to show “greatest athlete ever”. This shows that the media is beginning to take a step away from the sexualization of female athletes to respecting them. Its refreshing to see a female athlete so appreciated by a huge and influential company like Nike. Not only did they call her the best female athlete ever, but the greatest athlete ever. Williams as well as her career are shown in a positive light, and the focus is on her athletic ability and accomplishment.

An article written by ESPN in a special called the Body Issue did an interview with athlete Adeline Grey, a female wrestler. The interview mainly talks about the expectations and stereotypes of female athletes, and Grey responds talking about  her experiences with other’s expectations for women. The article highly revolves around the fact that wrestling is not a common sport for women. For example, Grey talks about hating it when people say she is “too pretty to wrestle”. I think this highlights the image that media has created about stereotyping women, and female athletes. It shows the the media expects that women are supposed to look pretty and not do certain activities that are associated with men. I especially liked this example about wrestling, because it is generally though of as a male sport. The article also mentions Grey’s athletic achievements, like that she has won three olympic gold metals.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 2.46.07 PM

Even though she is a gold metal winner, she talks about how people often do not even know that women’s wrestling is an olympic sport. This also reflects how the media represents female athletes. If more women’s sports where covered and talked about like men’s there would be more awareness for their sports and acknowledgement of their achievements.

Another interesting aspect of this article is that it features a photoshoot of the athlete. In ESPN’s Body Issue, they do articles for multiple athletes, but all of them do a naked photoshoot. Adeline Grey’s photos feature her in a wrestling setting, naked. I think this not only shows the sexualization of female athletes in the media, but all athletes. The media is obsessed with perfection, and people who are physically fit tend to be praised for their bodies. I think this can diminish the athletes achievements at their sporting events because people and the media can often focus on their looks, opposed to their actions.

Secondary Sources

There has been a number of studies which focus on the discrimination of female athletes. One large issue is that there is so much more coverage and support from the media for men’s athletics, opposed to women’s athletics. A study by Kim Toffoletti looks at how female athletes are persistently sexualized in the media. Even when female athletes are the focus in the media there is commonly an emphasis of the woman’s physical attributes, and this is highlighted over her athletic achievements. I saw this supported in my primary sources, as even when the athletes achievements where talked about, there was usually a greater focus on her looks, her body, and how attractive she is.

Then the study goes on to look at how not only are the female athletes sexualized, but female fans at men’s sporting events are also sexualized. This was an interesting point to me because its not just female athletes being sexualized, but women who are even just associated with sports.

Another interesting source I looked at was a high school teaching plan that focused on the discrimination of female athletes (Palis). The curriculum also includes topics such as stereotypes of female athletes, how the media portrays male and female athletes differently, racism among female athletes, salary differences between male and female athletes, and finally looks at the positiveaspects of being a female athlete. This in itself supports the fact that female athletes are less supported than men. The salary gap is a good example of this.

One  point that especially coincided with my topic is how female athletes are often expected to look a certain way. This puts a stress on athletes to conform to what society expects of them. There is such a huge expectation for female athletes to look good or “hot”, but it does seem like there is starting to finally be a but more appreciation for their achievements, like in the Nike ad. The problem with other sources that do point out women’s athletic achievements is that them often can also be belittling because of sexualization and objectification. It also talks about male vs female sport coverage in magazines. The information is a bit old, but still supports the fact that male sports receive more attention. In Sports Illustrated from “January 10,1994 to June, 1995, there were 67 photographs of male athletes on the front cover and only 3 photographs of women”. They also point out how when women are featured in media it is very sexualized. This seemed crazy to be that there was such an extremely higher amount of mens coverage to women.


Over all there I have definitely seen an issue with the way female athletes are identified in the media. They are often sexualized and the focus is on their looks. Even when there is information about what the have accomplished athletically the women are often still objectified and the focus is on their looks. Luckily, it appears that the media is starting to show more support for female athletes and putting the focus on what they have achieved as an athlete. One way to help this issue is to recognize the issue and be mindful of how you view and talk about athletes. If people could collectively have a more open mind and notice that there are issues in the ways that female athletes are viewed, that you be a huge first step in helping the issue.

Learning Moments

Week 3. One of the most interesting learning moments for me was when we talked about the influence of ads. I thought it was really interesting in the video looking at similarities of older painting and photographs to the ads that we see today. It just seems really cool how old work inspires new work. Its inspirational to me how art has left such a lasting impression on the advertisements that we see today.

Week 5. One of the most interesting topics we looked at all quarter was the Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, and LGBT Status from 2007 to 2014. It was so eye opening looking at statistics of how unequally people are represented in the most popular films we see. I had never thought about that before, until it was pointed out to me so explicitly. I think I can use what I have learned to look at the media more skeptically and appreciate when I see diversity in the media I consume.


Ain, Morty. “Adeline Gray: Female Athletes Should Be ‘iconic and Groundbreaking’.” ESPN. ESPN, 5 July 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. <http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/16743501/wrestler-adeline-gray-talks-role-models-wrestling-national-exposure-espn-body-issue&gt;.

Dudley55. “The Top 50 Hottest Female Athletes of 2017.” The Athletic Build. The Athletic Build, LLC., 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. <http://theathleticbuild.com/the-top-50-hottest-female-athletes-of-2016/&gt;.

Nike. “Unlimited Greatness Ft. Serena Williams.” YouTube. Nike, 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw0MmCgxDow&gt;.

Palis, Regina. “Female Athletes Facing Discrimination: Curriculum Regarding Female Athletes.” Female Athletes Facing Discrimination: Curriculum Regarding Female Athletes. Regina Palis, 30 Nov. 1994. Web. 04 May 2017. <https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED391132&gt;.

Toffoletti, Kim. “Sexy Women Sports Fans: Femininity, Sexuality, and the Global Sport Spectacle.” Taylor & Francis Online 17.13 (2016): 467-72. Taylor & Francis Online. Informa UK Limited, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www-tandfonline-com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/doi/full/10.1080/14680777.2016.1234499?scroll=top&needAccess=true&gt;.


2 thoughts on “Female Athletes in the Media

  1. Hi Miriah,

    That was a great post and very interesting to read. My post was very similar to this and looked at how much more media coverage male athletes get than female athletes. There were a lot of similarities between our findings and as you mentioned, I think these two problems go hand in hand with one another. I think the media believes that the only time women’s sports can get an audience is when they are sexualized. Many great female athletes have all of these accomplishments but they are still not good enough. The media has to attract the viewer in by sexualizing them just to get them interested in the topic. I appreciate you sharing that personal experience in the blog. The situation that you shared made this issue a lot more realistic and shows that it happens anywhere, anytime, and at any sports level. I hope that bigger sports related companies like Nike continue to step up and break this portrayal of female athletes.

    Thanks for sharing and good job!
    -Tommy Edwards

  2. Hi!

    I thought your research was interesting! One of the things that caught me as most surprising was in your initial google search how the “hottness” of a female athlete was such a determining factor to the results tat you were shown. It really puts into perspective what media outlets gain from representation of women.

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