Elizabeth Daniels has investigated how women and girls feel when they see sexualised images of female athletes.
The participants were allocated to one of three conditions - they either looked at five images of female athletes in a sporting context in their full sporting attire (the basketball player Anne Strother; the skateboarder Jen O'Brien; the tennis player Jennifer Capriati; the surfer Lisa Anderson; and the football player Mia Hamm), or they looked at five images of female athletes in a sexualised context with lots of flesh on display (the basketball player Lauren Jackson; the ice-skater Ekaterina Gordeeva; the swimmer Jenny Thompson; the softball player Jenny Finch; and the tennis player Anna Kournikova), or they looked at five images of bikini-clad magazine models given random names.
After looking at the first and last of their five allocated photographs (this was Lauren Jackson and Anna Kournikova in the sexualised athletes condition and Anne Strother and Mia Hamm in the sporty athletes condition), the participants were asked to write a paragraph "describing the woman in the photograph and discussing how this photograph makes you feel".
By contrast, participants who viewed the female athletes in a sporting context tended to comment on the athletes' determination, passion and commitment; they wrote about feeling motivated to perform sport; and they reflected on their own sporting participation or sports they followed. "Infusing more performance images of female athletes into the media may be helpful in promoting physical activity among girls and young women," Daniels said. "Currently, female athletes are largely absent from magazines targeted at teen girls."
Daniels, E. (2012). Sexy versus strong: What girls and women think of female athletes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33 (2), 79-90 DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2011.12.002
Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.