Media images of women in sports are also very different from the familiar pictures of male athletes in action. Female athletes are increasingly photographed in what some call “hyper-sexualized poses” (Armstrong, 2007). Women athletes were once shown as feminine and now it is necessary to sexualize them for men. A recent example of this is the July 2007 cover of Playboy featuring Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard posing nude. Her pictorial offended many women and felt that she pushed women equalities back years because she was showing off her body instead of her athletic talent. Women athletes are so often portrayed as sexual objects available for male consumption rather than as competitive athletes. A popular female athlete who was often used for her looks is Anna Kournikova. In the June 5, 2000 Sports Illustrated cover and several inside photographs of tennis player, Anna Kournikova, showed her posing seductively for the camera in her off-court wear (Schell, 2007). Anna was never a top tennis player but she landed numerous endorsement deals and a started modeling after her tennis career was plagued with injuries. By choosing the beautiful athletes, endorsers are giving the impression that female athletes are only beautiful.
A possible explanation of why women continue to pose scan dilly clad is the framing theory. Frames affect the public opinion and women athletes are often framed as sex objects or beautiful athletes. However, one way to renew the appeal of female athletes is to capitalize on their sex appeal. A popular Olympic softball player, Jennie Finch, was named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful Athletes” and was dubbed “World’s Sexiest Athlete” by an ESPN poll (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007). Unlike other female athletes, including high jumper Amy Acuff and swimmer Haley Cope and Amanda Beard, Jennie Finch refuses to pose nude for Playboy magazine and also will not appear in FHM men’s magazine (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007). These titles and polls with the athletes posing for these types of magazines may give girls the impression that despite talent, female athletes are really only valued for their looks.
When notable female athletes are not pictured, pretty models are often used to show the ideal feminine athleticism or represent society’s traditional notions of women’s role in sport. This portrayal creates an image of a sexy female athlete who can be athletic while maintaining heterosexual sex appeal. The sexy image emphasizes the physical beauty and femininity more than the athletic skill, power, and strength.
The media may sexualize the female athlete by focusing on their physical appearance. Content of sports photographs suggest that only the most glamorous women athletes are worthy of being pictured and their nonnative poses often resemble soft-core pornography (Schell, 2007). Some feel these images divert attention from women’s achievements as serious athletes and reinforce the misconception that women are uncompetitive. Many female athletes that represent their sport are sometimes not the best but the most beautiful.