Representations of Female Athletes in Sports Nutrition Advertising

Authors: Joylin Namie & Russell Warne

Corresponding Author:
Joylin Namie, Ph.D.
Social Science Department
Truckee Meadows Community College, RDMT 334G
7000 Dandini Boulevard
Reno, NV 89512
(775) 673-8216
jnamie@tmcc.edu

Joylin Namie is an instructor in the Social Science Department at Truckee Meadows Community College. Her research centers on issues related to media, gender, culture, and health. Previous publications have addressed athlete representation and public health in sports nutrition marketing, and the dangers of sports nutrition supplements. Her current research focuses on risk management and concussions among female equestrians.

Representations of Female Athletes in Sports Nutrition Advertising

ABSTRACT
Located at the nexus of sports, media, and food, sports nutrition advertising is a rich site for examining competing discourses of gender representation. Although closely associated with male competitive sports, images of female athletes are increasingly employed in the marketing of these products. This article utilizes a social semiotic approach to analyze portrayals of female athletes in sports nutrition packaging, websites, and commercials. In a marked departure from televised sports coverage, in which this marketing is often embedded, results highlight increased visibility for women, reduced sexualization, and significant variation in the representation of physically active female bodies. Although female athletes exhibit their largest presence on product websites, they are also featured in television commercials aired during major televised sporting events, providing increased exposure of women’s athletics to general sports viewing audiences. At the same time, a number of semiotic devices are employed by marketers to preserve masculine hegemony in the sporting realm. These include the marginalization of female athletes in terms of numbers and, in the case of commercials, time onscreen. Other devices include clothing, setting, the image act and the gaze, power and the visual angle, the absence of voice, and decontextualization, rendering female athletes stereotypes, rather than individuals. It is postulated that increased visibility of female athletes in ways that emphasize their athletic ability over their sexuality may contribute to the normalization of female participation in sport for viewers in the continuing absence of television coverage of women’s athletics.
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