Misrepresentation of Female Athletes in Media

Athlete Delaney Griffin (11) fights for the ball in a game of soccer. The grit and determination of female athletes are frequently erased by media. Photo by Heather Seals.

When I think of female athletes, words that come to mind are tough, strong, and gritty. Watching my favorite pro athletes and even teammates, I am always impressed by the hard work that they show in competition and at practice. However, in the media and through advertisement, those qualities in female athletes can be overlooked in favor of higher beauty standards that can hurt the confidence of young aspiring female athletes.

For example, a recent advertisement for Puma featured Kylie Jenner in their new running shoe line. Jenner, who is not a known runner or athlete, posed in athletic gear such as spandex, running shoes, and sports bras. When seeing the ad, many of my female athlete friends seemed surprised that Jenner was chosen to be the model. “It seems odd when there are so many female athletes that they could’ve used that are real runners,” said one. “That’s not actually how a runner looks,” said another. Many amused athletes took to twitter and blasted Jenner on her lack of form in the photos and how much makeup she was wearing. Others actually enjoyed Jenner’s work, with Teen Vogue writing an article about how “Kylie Jenner’s Stunning New Puma Campaign Is Fitness Goals.” This shows how easily people can be swayed to expect all women to match Jenner’s body type, and publicize that to a vulnerable group of girls.

In a similar occasion, Jenner’s sister Kendall received backlash for modeling while wearing ballet pointe shoes. Many criticized her lack of technique and ballet knowledge. With the many professional ballet dancers that are very talented at what they do, it seems silly to cast a model with no previous ballet experience. Those hard-working dancers deserve that recognition.

In contrast, when sports companies need male models to endorse their brand, they will almost always use professional, well-known athletes with a typical “athlete body.” This teaches women that having an athletic or muscular body is not attractive or worthy of showing in advertisements. This can also invalidate professional females’ hard work, as if they aren’t putting in as much as the men.

“I think it’s disheartening,” said Emily Cornejo (11), when asked how she feels when she sees ads with female models that aren’t athletes. “It’s under-representing female athletes, and many of [the models] are stick thin or have perfect hair. The product should be marketed as functional.” Cornejo is a strong athlete herself. She believes there is a bias when it comes to women with larger, more muscular bodies. “Like any sort of public ideology, not only do athletes have to look good while playing but also have [to be] this stick thin perfect non sweating being. It’s frustrating ‘cause yeah, I’m sure those models work out, but it makes young athletes who don’t fit the body quota (like myself) feel that they aren’t an athlete unless they look like those models,” said Cornejo. “Because big companies are branding these models as athletes and anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is excluded.”

So many women today have accomplished so much in sports. The US women’s national soccer team won the World Cup in 2015, New Zealand became the first country to have equal pay for all athletes regardless of gender, Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim American women to compete wearing a hijab at the Olympics, and so much more. Young female athletes should be able to focus on these accomplishments, not idealize having a certain body type that is almost impossible to achieve. Women have worked hard for these moments, and it’s about time they were given some respect. Hopefully in the future sports companies will include highly deserving female athletes in their ads, removing the stigma around muscular female bodies.

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