Vonn Watch: Sports Illustrated Cover is Predictable

Sports Illustrated February 8, 2010 Cover

I’ve thought to myself and predicted out loud that leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics that we would see a LOT of Lindsey Vonn in the media.

Vonn is first a GREAT athlete, but she also represents the norm of feminine attractiveness. The combination of athleticism and attractiveness make Vonn the likely poster girl of the US Olympic Team, and the media hasn’t disappointed in constructing her as such.

Not to be left out, Sports Illustrated is featuring Vonn on their February 8,2010 cover (pictured here). For those of you who follow SI Covers, know that female athletes are RARELY featured on the cover.

2007 Sports Illustrated Covers Featuring Women

Over the last 60 years researchers have shown that about 4% of all SI covers have portrayed women.

When females are featured on the cover of SI, they are more likely than not to be in sexualized poses and not in action–and the most recent Vonn cover is no exception.

NOTE: Please read my follow up post below in the comments section, in response to blog readers differing opinions about this post.

Follow up response:

I’ve been getting a lot of comments in this particular blog. It seems I’ve touched a nerve and many disagree with my interpretation of Vonn on the cover of SI. And many of the comments provide alternative perspectives, which is good for discussion. First, let me say I am a fan of Vonn. I have nothing against her and am proud she is a Minnesotan. I am also not saying that Vonn thrives on the attention of the sport media, or seeks it out. I believe she is being covered so frequently because of the combination of the skill, accomplishment, AND her appearance. I have to disagree that this pose is “in action”. In sport media research, we would code this Vonn cover as a passive shot. She is not actually ON the slope skiing, with her helmet on. She IS in a posed tuck position in an attempt to simulate what actually skiing would look like. Yes she is “in uniform” but not her complete uniform and she appears to be on the slope. Picture this as a way to frame what I’m trying to get at: Picture a male ski racer in a similar pose on the cover of SI, smiling at the camera. Would we see that? How would you react to that picture, verses the picture of Vonn? As one blog commenter seemed to hint at, this pose is “ok” because she is hot and sexy, so she is nice to look at. How would “we” feel if the female skier did not meet normative standards of feminine attractiveness (i.e., she was “ugly”) and was in the same pose? I appreciate everyone’s willingness to share their opinions.

Some have brought up a good point that male athletes have been photographed in similar poses, and I do not deny this fact. However, the argument is that because female athletes only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage regardless of the medium, that when we DO see them it is MORE LIKELY in poses that highlight traditional gender norms, femininity and framed in a way that can be interpreted as sexualized. So yes, Ohno or Kitt have been on the cover in similar ways but we will more likely see male athletes in action, on the court/ice/mat, and in their uniform that we will female athletes, this is a proven fact over the last 25 years of sport media research. -nml

Follow up Part 2 (2/6/10): Thank you to everyone who has submitted a comment. I have approved a sampling of the hundreds of comments that are representative of the varying opinions about this cover and issue. As you can read in the “About This Blog” tab, my goal with this blog is “help readers see the issues I write about with a different perspective (not necessarily one that you agree with)”. It is clear not everyone agreed with the critique of the Vonn SI cover and that is the point, to stimulate dialogue about an issue.  If you are interested in one explanation as to why this post generated so much discussion and attacks on me personally , click here.

Follow up Part 3 (2/8/10): This blog got so much exposure due to the fact it was picked up by USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and more recently CoCo Perez, among other media outlets.

164 Replies to “Vonn Watch: Sports Illustrated Cover is Predictable”

  1. So I am stumbled across this blog today, and I am glad I did.

    I am very surprised (ok, not that surprised) by the comments on here. Would you say this same stuff to another’s face? Years of experience, , education, conversation, analysis, observation, and evidence should be respected, not blown apart with nasty comments.

    Instead of thinking about ourselves and Vonn and Dr. LaVoi, let’s consider how this cover makes thousands of other people feel. Then let’s consider similar poses of female athletes over the course of 10, 50, 100 years. The result is that women, particularly female athletes, are supposed to be attractive and sexy. They are held to a different standard than male athletes. AND they are shown less often than male athletes.

    This discussion should focus more on the broader picture (a macro- level, so to speak) of female athletes in sport, not whether or not, you think Vonn is sexy.

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  2. Your post is right on. My jaw dropped when I first saw this cover. It’s so fake, made up, and sexualized, it’s crazy! This is exactly what SI and so many androcentric media do to women: take them doing something somewhat powerful (like rocking out on the slopes) then warping the pose a bit to make it sexualized, and thereby drain that action of its power.

    It’s obvious also that less stereotypically attractive athletes do not receive the same celebrity status, especially women. Today’s professional sports are about much more than athleticism: they’re about marketing people to the masses.

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  3. I understand your point of view, but something tells me if Sports Illustrated put Vonn on their cover and she was in full uniform and in action, some feminist blog would decry SI for not showing her feminine side.

    This is a staged action photo, simple as that. SI does them from time to time. Here’s Sydney Crosby, not wearing a helmet, but prepared to take a face-off with a smile.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/cover/featured/11383/index.htm

    I realize that Cosby isn’t in a sexual position, but given that Vonn is replicating what she would do during a race, neither is she.

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  4. I wish feminists would realize that sexualization and objectification is not practiced only for female athletes. For those who say that female athletes are “held to a different standard,” let me ask this: how many times have you seen Warren Sapp photographed shirtless? There’s a premium on attractiveness in our society, regardless of sex.

    I’m also not sure it’s beneficial to suggest that lionization of unattractiveness is a good idea. Fitness is, largely, conducive to attractiveness. Given the problem our society has with obesity in our young people, I think there should be more emphasis on fitness and attractiveness, not less. In short, looking good is not a bad thing.

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  5. While I agree with Dr. LaVoi’s assessment that women are dramatically underrepresented in Sports Illustrated, I think I disagree with the assessment that the pose not being “in action” makes it more sexist.

    From that angle, I’m not even certain that it would be possible to take a high-resolution, magazine cover quality, close-up shot of a downhill skier traveling at 70mph or so.

    Based on a cursory glance at past Sports Illustrated covers, it seems that, except for football, the majority of their covers are of staged photographs. And they have had sexualized covers of males on their covers, like so:

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  6. Thank you for pointing out this useless piece of information. She is in a racing position, posing for a cover shot. That is all. There is absolutely nothing sexual about the photograph, with the exception being your misdirected and unnecessary analysis. Now her great accomplishments are being blemished by your comments. I hope her performance at the Olympics will erase this from everyones memory.

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  7. Yes women are rarely on the cover of SI but I think that has more to do with the magazines audience. Not to many people care about women sports, maybe tennis, golf, and every 2 years Olympic events but for the the most part we don’t follow women sports. It’s not like they are putty ugly guys on the cover of SI either, and I would say photo’s of men in actual action poses on the cover are under 15%. Sure they like to put sexy women on the cover and so does any women magazine out there, if you were going to select a picture to write this article about you should have waited a week for the swimsuit issue. That is not a very provocative pose, would you rather have her helmet on so you don’t know who she is or maybe a zoom out photo when she is actually skiing so you don’t even know she is on the US team, I mean come on.

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  8. Wow! I can’t believe you consider this to be a sexualized pose. Yes – it is very artificial – but sexual? – she’s a downhill skier – what the hell is wrong with you? You are a disgrace. Lindsey doesn’t deserve this crap.

    Janice

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  9. Jesus, the swarms are out in force! How can that pose be anything but sexually suggestive? If she was wearing a helmet, it would be different and I’ve not seen a male athlete do a similar pose (sans helmet or other necessary gear while wearing skintight attire). And she’s smiling right at the camera. None of the guys I know looked at that and didn’t think of a certain sexual position.

    It’s incredible how utterly insane some of the comments you have been getting. They’re a touch hateful aren’t they?

    Only suggestion: in the future refer to “objectification” as dehumanization since that word actually describes what’s going on while the former is rather empty (e.g. “What is being turned into an object? Why is being an object bad?”).

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  10. As a woman benefiting from Title IX, I find it fantastic that our society sees athletic women as sexy (the women worked to get those bodies and hurray for showing them off, same as for men who show it off!). The bikini pictures of the athletes in SI this year are fantastic, as SI has been doing now for years. The couples where one or both are athletes, those pictures are great, too. A great counterpoint to the thin, tall models, some with surgical enhancements, who really are not athletes.

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  11. “If she was wearing a helmet, it would be different and I’ve not seen a male athlete do a similar pose (sans helmet or other necessary gear while wearing skintight attire). And she’s smiling right at the camera. None of the guys I know looked at that and didn’t think of a certain sexual position.”

    What bullshit! If she was wearing a helmet in the photo, these same yentas-in-training would complain that by covering her face, the photographer was seeking to cause the viewer to pay more attention to her legs and her ass.

    Speaking of which, if the series of photos in SI are meant to be “sexualized” , why aren’t there any good shots of her butt?

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  12. Davidson–agreed. How do these people even FIND this blog?? Can it be true that so many people mistrust media researchers? Do they really believe that their own “observation” of magazine imagery outstrips the credibility of a scholar specializing in this kind of research? I guess any criticism of the status quo is frightening for some people.

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  13. I am constantly stunned by the inability of people to see images, words and events in CONTEXT, rather than as isolated entities. Women are constantly sexualized in print and broadcast media. The photo of Vonn is definitely not an action shot. The photographers and stylists could have chosen any number of poses, yet–surprise, surprise!–they chose one that involved ass in the air.

    It also disturbs me that people are forgetting a significant fact: If a sportsman poses in a sexual way, he is still considered an athlete first, no matter what. But if a sportswoman poses in a sexual way, she is likely to be considered “hot” (or a slut, depending on the pose and the viewer) first, and an athlete second.

    Mostly, though, I am disgusted by the need of so many readers to hurl insults at the blogger. If you are defensive enough to say disgusting things to the author, I have to wonder why.

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  14. I am very pleased to read that the overwhelming opinion about the article over L. Vonns cover tends strongly to recognizing the absurdity of the statements of Dr.LaVoi. It might be best to actually ask what lies behind such a statement. I do see that more then enough has been said.

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  15. It is interesting that several of the more recent comments support the author. She was certainly innundated with massive numbers of emails. It is just unfortunate that she doesn’t show everyone how badly in the minoity her opinion is. It was funny to read one of the earlier comments though. It was to point out how because she is a researcher that she knows what she is talking about. I have great respect for the great many researchers that provide us with information that can’t be disputed and helps us live better lives. Regretfully, this is not that type of research and likely is fueled by her own personal bias. I am sure, if we looked hard enough, we could find research to contradict this blog. This is not a personal attack on the Dr. but a critique of her “Research”. If people want to take offense, including the Dr, to these comments then maybe it’s time to get out of the habit of being critcal.

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    1. Steven G.,
      You bring up a great point in that research produces results that adds to a body of knowledge. There are many ways to produce knowledge from personal opinion or the scientific method. The great part about research is that it can be critiqued publicly–as on this blog. The idea that the world was flat, was at one time a minority opinion as well. But just because a critical analysis (which is different than being “critical”) is a minority opinion doesn’t make it any more true or false, right or wrong. All research can be argued to be biased, as research is not value neutral as some might claim. The research I am basing the analysis of the Vonn cover upon is that of the sport media research done over the last three decades (see Duncan, Messner, Kane, Hardin, Pedersen, Whisenant, and Daniels…to name a few). Thanks for bringing up a part of this issue that had not been previously touched upon. -nml

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  16. This is a great cover shot of a wonderful athlete and a beautiful woman. It’s about time that we got to see a healthy body image for women on a magazine cover! I enjoy seeing a talented and athletic woman posing on the cover of any magazine, doing (or at least posed to look like she’s doing) an activity that she loves. In a world where we are force fed the images of twig thin woman who don’t eat and chain smoke to stay thin, wearing the latest fashions made to fit anorexics. This photo is a breath of fresh air. And if the fact that she is bent over makes you instantly think about sex, it is you that needs to take a good hard look in the mirror.

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  17. It is time women demand SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT EDITION FOR WOMEN! What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I know that SI had SI for women, which failed, but have they ever tried to publish JUST a swimsuit edition, featuring male athletes in sexual poses? I know alot of women who would buy it for eye candy, others just to make a point. I say contact SI and tell them to get right on it. I will buy it. Let’s start objectifying male athletes as opposed to focusing on their skill and see how they like it.

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  18. I am truly sorry that so many people have gotten defensive about this topic. It does make you wonder why they do. The idea that this blog is “fueled by [the blogger’s] personal bias” is absurd. If research had been done by the person who posted this, he/she would’ve seen that many other respectful researchers would agree with the blogger’s point of view. However, no research seems to have been done before. In fact, if seems that no research was done before any of the three responses this individual posted. It is true that women’s sports make little, if any, money; however, if one looks at men’s sports (please note the difference between men’s sports and professional men’s sports), one would see that they “make little (if any) money”.

    Unfortunately, the negative comments here are due to deeply rooted social and cultural issues that will not change anytime soon.

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