Then this week ESPN showed the film “Branded,” which sought to ask “Will sex appeal always supersede women’s achievement?” In a related ESPN blog post, Kate Fagan quotes a study from Janet Fink, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who says, “Grassroots studies are showing that consumers, when deciding whether to buy a sports-related product, respond more to advertisements that portray female athletes as — get this — athletes.”
She adds, “Another thing we are finding… is that each time a female athlete is pictured in a sexualized way, it diminishes the perception of her athletic ability.”
Fagan goes on to suggest new ways in which women athletes will be marketed which include a wider range of athletes being endorsed, not just the sexiest and prettiest. She cites Nike sponsoring US basketball player Brittney Griner, the first openly gay athlete on their books, and a Gatorade ad for soccer player Abby Wambach looking “tough, sweaty and strong”.
Finally they cite Nicole Lavoi, a professor at the University of Minnesota and associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports. She says, “If girls see more images of female athletes as athletes, then it shifts their thinking. That’s the game changer. It opens up the idea that we can see and celebrate all female athletes.”
I love the sentiment, it makes me feel genuinely optimistic for the future of women’s sport, but would it work in surfing?
This cool response to the ESPN piece by Sea Kin (and tweeted by Cori Schumacher) breaks it down nicely saying, “Sex doesn’t sell sports. It just sells sex.” She also mentions interesting research by University of Minnesota sports sociologist Dr. Mary Jo Kane which shows that, “sexy images of female athletes may make that woman a bigger celebrity but they don’t translate into a deeper interest in their sport.”
So, has the recent sexing up of surfing sold more surf apparel and/or got more girls to take up the sport? Or has it just made them Alana fans or, in the worst case scenario, wonder if they’re hot enough to wear a bikini? It’s difficult to know, but I love the idea of a broader, more honest notion of what a surfer girl can be so maybe we can finally, as Cori Schumacher said, move Beyond Gidget. I’m pretty sure Carissa Moore would want that too. What about you?