Male Athletes, Female Aesthetics: The Continued Ambivalence Toward Female Athletes in ESPN’s The Body Issue

in International Journal of Sport Communication
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  • 1 West Virginia University, USA
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Previous studies have suggested that media reify frames that subtly enforce sex differences in a manner that detracts from women athletes’ athleticism. This phenomenon is referred to as ambivalence. To analyze ambivalence, this study introduces a theoretically and empirically supported coding scheme that was used to conduct a quantitative frame analysis of 157 images featured in ESPN’s The Body Issue. These images were coded for frames that de-emphasize athleticism, sexualize athletes, or deny a sporting context. Results suggest that athlete sex is associated with de-emphasized athleticism and sexualized frames, and sport gender is associated with context frames. Results also support longitudinal trends in The Body Issue series, which suggest that the series has become more sexualized and removed from a sports context but has decreased the use of frames that de-emphasize athleticism. In general, The Body Issue continues to reinforce established media trends that trivialize female athletes, despite claiming to do the opposite.

Cranmer (a graduate student) and Bowman are with the Dept. of Communication Studies, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV. Brann is now with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN. Address author correspondence to Gregory Cranmer at

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