Ok, so if you didn’t agree with my critique (and many didn’t!) of the February 8, 2010 Sports Illustrated cover of Olympian Lindsey Vonn that can be interpreted as sexualized, the photographs of Vonn and other female athletes in the 2010 SI Swimsuit Issue being released today (shown here below) might help illustrate some of my original points.
I became aware of these pictures, from a news story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that ran today which stated, “Minnesota skiing sensation Lindsey Vonn is among a quartet of Olympic athletes featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that is out today in print and online.” The online version of the SI Swimsuit Issue includes video clips of the Olympic Stars doing their photo shoots.
The critique here is the same, when we DO see female athletes (some of the best in the world at their respective sports!) which happens in only 6-8% of all sport media, they are more often than not in poses that highlight physical attractiveness, femininity, and can be interpreted as sexualized. Is it coincidental that the four female Olympians portrayed here are all blond, attractive, feminine looking, and sexy according to societal norms?Arguably, the Vonn SI cover can be interpreted (or not) as sexualized, but these images are clearly sexualizing in nature and tone.
The obvious target market for the Swimsuit Issue is men. Therefore, the idea that “sex sells” is viable and research does support that sex sells. What I want to argue however, and some emerging research is supporting, that sex sells sex…but sex does not sell women’s sport.
The point being, by seeing Vonn on the cover of SI, these images of female Olympians, or any other female athlete… does it make the male demographic more likely to attend and pay for a ticket to an event where these women are competing, buy merchandise, or read a story about them? Researchers say it is unlikely. So yes, sex sells sex but it likely does not promote women’s sport or female athletes in a way that helps to grow women’s sport in a meaningful and sustainable way.
The last point I want to highlight is these type of images also reinforce to consumers what is most important and valued in terms of female athletes and females in general, and meaning is constructed from what is chosen to be included and not included. If you want to read more about how the sexualization of females affects everyone, particularly young girls, go to the American Psychological Foundation’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls. The report can be downloaded for free, and in short states, “The proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls’ self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.”
Therefore, I hope to see many more images like the one below in the weeks to follow, as Vonn (who I really hope is healthy enough to race given her shin injury) and other female Olympians have great potential to be positive role models, not only for girls, but for us all.
To see a video segment of me talking with KARE11 reporter Jana Shortal about why sexualized images of female athletes are problematic, click here.
11 Replies to “Vonn Watch: Part II”
Well, SI has gone and made a fool out of. I was one of those who posted in disagreement with your view regarding the Vonn’s pose for cover, and now that I’ve seen her latest photo spread, I’m ready to concede. Just wanted to let you know that I completely agree with you. It’s a shame, because she really could have broken the trend.
Thank you for re-posting and sharing your thoughts. -nml
lol. As soon as I saw the SI pics, I entered your URL sure that you’d have posted an article about it. I mean after all – sexiness? How horrific! I’ll now read what you have to say before continuing.
Okay. I think you’re incorrect. Seeing these pics will likely make more men pay attention to the US women in the Winter Olympics. If you check, you’ll see that woman’s beach volleyball was one of the most watched events in Beijing. And I also think that after that initial hook, most men come to also respect the women for their athletic abilities.
As for the psych report. Psychology will continue to be incorrect about many if not most things. Often because researchers start with their own inherent bias and also because the range of info they’re examining is usually a limited subset. In fact, looking at the report – by their definition only one of their criteria is viable (equating physical attractiveness with being sexy) Now I don’t know what vacuum the authors of the study exist in but yes – of course. Most people used the word sexy to mean a type of physical attractiveness. That’s as true for men as for women.
Ultimately, beyond all the “expert talk,” the studies, the push to brand sexuality with as something dangerous, is an almost puritanical fear and underlying associations with women displaying their sexuality as immoral. A fear and associations very similar to that which leads some cultures to mandate that their women be completely veiled.
While your on your campaigning, reflect once in a while that the people who proscribe full veils for their women are as convinced that anything else is immoral and “sexualized” as you are about your positions. And what they say about the results of those transgressions are very much in alignment with what you and others (APA) conjecture. So, if you have the courage to do so please take some time and genuinely ponder whether you are really championing women and their freedom of expression, or if you are driven by other motives that have root in some underlying ideas about morality and virtue.
pov-For being such a critic of my blog posts, you are the most frequent poster I have. If you don’t like or disagree so much with the content, then don’t read the blog.-nml
Really? You wrote a blog to start controversy. You got it.
I don’t think your example of women’s beach volleyball holds much water. “Meaningful and sustainable” is all together different than men oogling nearly naked elite athletes. Women athletes are generally not considered successful or worth media coverage unless they are heterosexually, normatively attractive. I’m afraid the “success” of women’s beach volleyball is because they are good to look at (and fantasize about), not because they are world class athletes. And, as long as crowds are only there to look at the competitors, women’s sports will never be taken seriously and will not be sustainable or meaningful. They will continue to play second fiddle to men’s sports.
Further, men shouldn’t have to “come around” to respecting women athletes. This idea illustrates long held beliefs that men’s sport is superior to women’s sport (and therefore, women athletes must be attractive in order for them to worthwhile). As long as attractiveness comes first, there is no possibility for respect.
The most astounding aspect of this entire debate that you don’t seem to pick up on is that women are held to different standards than men when it comes to attractiveness and athleticism. It has nothing to do with puritanical beliefs; it has everything to do with the fact that women athletes must be both an expert and attractive, while men need only to be experts.
That’s not entirely true. There IS such a thing as an “ugly” woman sportswoman (myself :-)) But it’s just that women celebrities have a bad habit of exposing themselves for press or attention.
Personally, I don’t think Vonn is being “sexualized.” That would mean she is unwillingly or unknowingly being portrayed as a sex icon. She had to be in the pic when it was taken, so she pretty much “OK’d” both pics – the Sports Illustrated cover, and swimsuit pic. These athletes are ALLOWING themselves to be portrayed this way. If Vonn didn’t like it, she’d probably say something. So if she’s got no problem with it, you shouldn’t either Dr. LaVoi. Lindsey apparently wants to show off her body. People want to see pretty women, and Vonn has the bad taste to give them what they want.
Just A Thought.
I can never understand why people try to deny human nature, even those whose human nature is just not normal. Most well centered women could care less about what other women do to get ahead. Just think of it from a different view. (if you were a 10, you wouldn’t think the way you do) get it?
Not saying I agree with it, just facing facts so I dont get bogged down…..
I agree with Anna, Vonn (and the other women) who posed for “Sports Illustrated” were consenting adults. It’s their body so it’s their right to prefer to be remembered as just another more- or- less pretty face on a hottt bod than to be remembered for their athletic achievements, right? I also applaud Vonn’s husband’s open-minded attitude for being so proud of his wife inspite of all the rude and crude comments about her on “Youtube”. Mind you, Anna omitted stating the fact that Vonn didn’t do the poses for free, so I suppose it is only natural that he be proud of his wife’s pics after depositing the big fat check in their bank account, eh? But hey, that’s their business too. Vonn’s pictures are just a question of money, there are thousands of women all over the world who agree to pose for sexy pictures for a certain sum of money everyday, it is simply one of the aspects of today’s society….in less than a year Vonn’s pictures will be forgotten because they’re not outstanding in the first place. Talking about being forgotten, the Olympics aren’t even finished yet the majority of males living outside of North America have NO idea which medals Vonn won, nor for which category. I find that to be a shame because here’s a young woman who like all althetes in her category spent years training, underwent hardships and made sacrifices to achieve a dream, and she manages to achieve that dream and for what? To be remembered as, “The Bikini girl”. Wow, well it was Vonn’s choice to do that, however that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to find her choice to be considered as a noble choice……and that’s MY right.