Sports photography: Athletes or Sex Symbols?

When it comes to American sports, it is not uncommon to define athletic prowess before athletes step out onto the world’s biggest stage whether it’s a court, field, track, or swimming pool. Image-based phenoms become the target of cameras and can quickly become the icon of their respective sports all the while merely dreaming of hoisting a trophy above their heads or singing the national anthem with a medal hanging from their necks. What’s the secret?


There is something to be said for capturing the muscle definition of a human body flying through the air or contorted into positions that seem unfathomable to the average American who cannot reach down and touch his or her toes.

But what are we to make of this?


This picture gives the viewer not even the slightest clue as to which sport soccer star Hope Solo is famous for. It is no secret that the portrayal of female athletes has a history of being heavily sexualized. According to article “Framed and Mounted,” “The body in sports photography is always invested with a wider representational role as sexualized, gendered, racialized, and so on.” The better the body, the more likely a women is to grace covers of magazines, receive media exposure, and become the sex symbol of her sport. There is a fine line between expressing femininity and reducing women to a sex symbols. How can sports photographers manage to walk this fine line?


ESPN’s annual “The Body Issue” is a prime example of the push for sportsmen to share the sex symbol limelight that has long been dominated by women. The 2012 issue contained more images of nude men than women. Do you believe this is a meager attempt to remain politically correct and justify the overt sexualization of female athletes? Or is this a sign that the gendered dynamics and representation of athletes is changing?



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